Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cartoons as a Mass Communication Strategy for Sustainable Transport

Sudhir Gota

The first thing most of us often notice in the newspaper is the editorial cartoon – an art of the moment drawn to illustrate message in a comic way. The illustrations often reside in our memory for a long time and thus newspapers use cartoons as a means to provide the knockout punch – to create an immediate impact among the audience.

This benefit of quick impact provides huge potential for educating masses on sustainable transport issues. To initiate the paradigm shift, a huge effort needs to be made in changing the mindset of transport consumers and policy makers. Cartoons in newspapers can provide the not only an easiest way of reaching vast segment of audience– educated to non-educated, children to elders, urban and rural people etc., but also creating lasting impact in few seconds.

When editorial cartoons are supported by think pieces written by editors, policy makers and experts, it creates the momentum at the grass route level thereby increasing the support for the paradigm shift in transport. One needs all the support when trying to create solutions by attacking the demand and breaking the trend of using infrastructure as a magic bullet.

Take the case of Ahmedabad BRTS, where media played a constructive role in highlighting various issues related to BRTS, educating the people and providing constructive criticisms which enabled it to become a best practice BRT in Asia. Without media support, things become very difficult for policy makers and political support for radical actions often evaporates.

In order to capture as to how newspaper cartoons can create lasting impact, transport cartoons from times of India newspaper (TOI) from India where collated from the period January-2008 till now. This newspaper is extremely popular in India and supposed to have the largest circulation among all English-language newspapers in the world. According to some estimates it has a print readership of 13.3 million and its online version reaching a record 159 million page views in May 2009. Scanning through 840 newspaper editions though is a time consuming process, extracted collection is very impressive with many transport related stories being told with simple images.

Studying the cartoons from last early 2008, fuel prices and congestion has been the favorite topic of the artists. In 2008, newspapers used cartoons many a times to create awareness on fuel consumption and rising fuel prices. Climate change and COP discussion was another favorite topic during 2009. Many cartoons were localized to suit domestic audience to create greater impact and many also relied on quotes to add the punch. The stories were conveyed from the perspective of common man.
Though, few cartoons took potshots against Delhi BRT, many were highlighting the poor pedestrian infrastructure. Surprisingly, considering very high accident fatalities, not many cartoons highlighted the road safety aspects.

Please find some of the collection below. Please source all the cartoons to Times of India and do send them positive feedback and request for more transport related cartoons @ Many a times such efforts can create lasting impression and thus resulting in better outreach.

See the cartoons @