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Media in armed conflict situation: Manipur Perspective

By : Dr. Aribam Ibomcha Sharma (IIS)
News Editor, All India Radio

Introduction
The popular narrators of everyday happenings, the print, electronic and social media play a pivotal role in a democratic country. The principal democratic function of media is to act as a check on the state. The fourth pillar of democracy should monitor the full range of state activity and fearlessly expose abuses of official authority. Even if the publication and broadcast of news is at the embarrassment of the national and state governments, practice of the same should not be deterred if it is overweighed by public interest and impartial conscience of the journalists responds to divulge the same.
The process of information dissemination is not however without its biases and asymmetries. The media persons of all ilks are also human. They have their own socio-political, economic and religious affiliations. Even if the ethical codes of professional conduct of the fourth estate of democracy clearly solicit to observe and maintain truth, accuracy, fairness, impartiality, justice and social responsibility, the same cannot always be guaranteed in practice. The situation is more critical in armed conflict zones in comparison to regions of peace and tranquility. This is because of the reason that both the rival parties in the conflict situation and their supporting groups want to utilize the oxygen of publicity to serve their interest. At the same time, the media professionals working in such situations are more vulnerable to professional hazards.
Even though there is a convention from the time immemorial of not targeting messengers during the course of war or an armed conflict, the same is not honoured at times by the warring parties. In the past decade, as many as 1100 media persons and support staff have been killed all over the world. A major share of the journalists killed over the past decade is from the armed conflict zones and armed violent regions of the world.
Deeply concerned at the frequency of acts of violence, including deliberate attacks, in many parts of the world against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in armed conflicts, the Security Council of the United Nations condemned such attacks and called on all parties on 23 December 2006 to put an end to such practices. The Council also recalled the war correspondents’ right to the status of prisoners of war(PoW) under the third Geneva Convention. According to the Convention, journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in the areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians, be respected and protected as such. In spite of the professional hazards likely to face, many a journalist are ever ready to cover armed conflict zones and the beat is their prime fodder.   

Media’s interest in armed conflicts and communication politics: A Guide to Advanced Techniques in Journalism, prepared by the Editorial Study Centre of the Thomson Foundation, lists 20 categories of what makes news and conflict is positioned at sixth. Politics is unquestioningly at the top of the list. As armed conflict is a political problem, the coverage of the same in media is a top priority with catalytic effect. News of armed conflict and its relevant views contributed by strategic analysts, media commentators and policy researchers are hot cakes for the newspaper readers, radio listeners, television viewers and online news media and social media users.
 For the sake of circulation that will lead to earning more advertisement revenue, media need contents of armed conflict. The news and views of the armed conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Uganda  and Middle East are brought to the media audience around the globe by international news agencies - Reuters, AFP, AP, UPI, TASS etc. and the same contents are among the most read or heard or viewed items in newspaper, radio, television and online media. If the importance of conflict content is fueled by proximity, the coverage of the same is done at a more prominent page of print media or at a prime time slot of electronic media. Such editorial contents are regular features not only in national media but also in local media like daily newspapers published in Imphal. The quantum of coverage of news and views of armed conflict in the local media explains per se the demand of armed conflict in media.
The key role played by media during the course of an armed conflict is known to the nations or states and non-state parties who have stake in the conflict. Each party tries its best to win the media war first as the psychological war is fought first. If a party wins in the communication politics of armed conflict, success of the party is almost certain in the long run. This happened time and again in US led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and NATO-Serbia armed conflicts. Even if the group gets defeated physically, support of the international community will be with the group if it could have influenced the global media. Such communication politics really helped Kosovo in the long run and it could become a sovereign country recently.
In the present communication politics of the world, media framing of issues or media framing of individuals/groups/nations is really working very effectively. It is because of this reason that the majority view of the world is against Taliban, Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden while none of the organizations and Laden were terrorist when they were on the battle line to throw out the Russian forces from the soil of Afghanistan with the help of US intelligence network CIA.
The communication politics played by the West to influence the global media during the height of armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq shows the compelling necessity of winning media war beforehand. It is in this line that the US-led coalition force was criticized for intentionally targeting journalists who defied their command and also for bombarding the work places of Al-Jazeera TV in Baghdad and Kabul as the news organization is considered to be pro-Islamic. Media in Manipur is also facing bomb attack in newspaper office, editor’s residence and moreover physical liquidation and attempt of the same while the local journalists are shouldering the responsibility of informing the people of the state.
(To be contd................)

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