Rohtak: In Haryana, a WhatsApp group comprising journalists and politicians is proving to be a credible platform to break stories and get the legislature acting.
The latest exposé of the group took place in March, making headlines and even causing an uproar in the Assembly. One journalist posted audio clips that purportedly had the chief of an urban local body bragging to a former minister how he had paid a bribe of Rs 45 lakh to get the post. The audio clips, first shared in this group, went viral on social media and snowballed into a major issue. So much so that the Opposition bench created a ruckus over it in the Assembly and the chief minister had to order a probe by the director general, vigilance.
The WhatsApp group Khabar Khakkhata 24x7, meaning news superfast, has lived up to its name more than once.
A year ago, this group became the epicentre of a viral video clip that led to suspension of a few jail officials in Haryana. A video was posted in the group, showing prison officials shaking a leg and showering money on dancers in the premises of Jind jail. As the video went viral on social media, an inquiry was ordered and the erring officials had to face disciplinary action.
Besides breaking these stories, the group has also drawn the attention of authorities to issues of importance that were otherwise ignored in mainstream media.
Parveen Khurrana, media adviser to state agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankhar, told Firstpost that the minister himself keeps track of the messages shared on the group and prefers to address them himself. He said inputs received from the group have helped the minister take corrective action many times. He shared an example from last year, when someone had posted photographs of long queues of farmers outside government's fertiliser distribution centres in Charkhi-Dadri and Jind districts. Khurrana said the minister took note of the problem and mitigated the problem by opening more distribution centres.
Lovesh Sharma, media adviser of social justice and empowerment minister Kavita Jain, said they heed every relevant information shared in the group and give it due importance. He said whenever any issue is raised concerning their department, he gets back to the group with proper answers to keep the journalists, politicians from other parties and other key persons informed.
Further, he said they share all the policy and event-related documents of the department on the group. "After all, it's the century of social media and it's as important as mainstream media," he said.
Charkhi-Dadri-based journalist Pardeep Sahu, who created Khabar Khakkhata in December 2014, said the purpose of forming the group was to keep the authorities informed about the ground reality. He said the group has 237 members. He highlighted that while they receive requests from many journalists, scribes are added to the group only after their credentials are verified.
Group member and Navbharat Times journalist Ajay Lathar said that apart from Jain and Dhankhar, finance minister Capt Abhimanyu, food and civil supplies minister Karan Dev Kamboj, health minister Anil Vij, PWD (B&R) minister Rao Narbir Singh, social justice and empowerment minister Krishan Lal Pawar, their media advisers and a few other top government officials are among the group's members.
He said the dynamics of the group are such that journalists don't hesitate from asking tough questions. The department concerned responds to them promptly, be it apprising them about a previous announcement or be it taking cognisance of a breaking story.
Vijender Singh, a Jind-based journalist who works with Etv news channel and is a member of Khabar Khakkhata, said he has hardly ever seen wrong information being shared in the group. He said even if such a post is shared, the minister concerned or their media advisers themselves summarily refute it. He said this active participation of authorities concerned not only checks spread of misinformation, but also helps journalists like him by saving them from the runaround to verify facts.
Davinder Dangi, a Rohtak-based journalist who is also an admin of the group said that unlike at other places, stories here come from authentic sources with photos and videos as proof. In fact, Lathar said such is the credibility this group enjoys that when a prank article was shared here on Holi in the spirit of having fun, about how a BJP leader has joined Indian National Lok Dal, unsuspecting mediapersons assumed it to be a true development and reported it as news.
As the group has succeeded in maintaining legitimacy by allowing access only to verified journalists and engaging politicians, it has grown into a useful resource for the media and politicians alike.
(Sat Singh is a Rohtak-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Updated Date: Apr 23, 2018 20:19 PM