By : Sothing Shimray
About 20 years ago radio was the most important source of information media for the hill people. As in the valley also, what was informed through radio was like ‘God’s voice’ seemingly devoid of any flaw. Of course, the outlooks still prevails as more than 70 percent of villages in the hill districts still do not receive News papers. A copy of News papers in the village were read and discussed by almost all the literates for over a week. Illiterates come to know of the happenings around the world through such discussions. Frankly, I do not know about the situation in the valley, but this is the situation at the hill areas.
This year I happen to came across an interesting situation of news crazy citizens at Tamenglong town. It was around 12 noon I saw more than 20 peoples, old and young, sitting at a makeshift bench near one book store. My curiosity pricks and I was told that it is a usual scene at Tamenglong every day. What surprise me as it will be to all of you is, they were waiting for the arrival of news paper from Imphal. This clearly reveals their thirst to read the news papers publish from the State capital. They were waiting for the news papers expectantly. Well, What do they expect from the contend of that day’s issue? This is a million dollar question indeed.
The concept of media is now more or less well defined comparing to those days 20 or 30 years ago. Those were the days where prefixing or suffixing the name of their respective community were common phenomena i.e Mr.X Paite, Mr. Y. Tangkhul, Mr. A. Meitei and so on. Those days the contents of news in the news papers and radio were dominated by outside happenings. Even the very mention of one’s village name in the media was the ‘talk of the town’. Those were the days of ‘one way traffic’ where the consumers or listeners just listen without any feedback.
Gone are those days of silent listeners and readers. Now, every listeners and readers are very reactive and the challenges before the media has also increase by leaps and bound. The speed of technological development s in the field of communication has no doubt changed the face of media and society i.e from simple to complex. In fact the developments are so fast that even journalists are finding it difficult to access, assess, assimilate, understand and interpret.
Amidst this adaptive inability every citizens has now become more rationalized and sensible as well as sensitive. Manipur is a multi-community and multi-religious state. Every community and religion has their own interest. Of course, understandably it is a hard task for the Editors to maintain a balance role.
To me the biggest challenge before the media in Manipur is the inability of media people to understand their greater social responsibility, their inability to come out of their respective family tradition, their community influence and so on. Of course, they are all human being and I am not blaming any one in particular. Frankly speaking, lakhs and lakhs of Manipur population are dancing at the tune of some hundreds of journalists. Experience has clearly shown that hyping an issue by the conventional media, forget about other social media viz facebook, WhatsApp etc, is very common in Manipur. Any slight issues involving different communities were sensationalised and hyped in favour of their respective communities. Ethical journalistic guidelines usually take a backseat when it comes to communal tone. This is a serious betrayal of Journalistic profession and to the social fabric of the State. As the code of ethics is usually a moral issue, the breach of which does not attracts legal remedies. That is why the regulator like the Press Council of India can’t take any legal action, and that no journalist is seemingly doing wrong even when the state is burning. Standardizing the profession of journalism is the key here, but no doubt a hard task, as this involved many factors.
Talking about principles and ethics of journalism, there are some people swerving from one media house to another or form one media organization to another in an effort to escape from their unethical or anti social practices. I am aware that every media houses have certain code of conduct against bribe or paid news so is also the media organization. But there are some journalists who openly take bribes or indulge in anti social activities. And when confronted those person just quit and joins another media house and media organization. Unfortunately, he or she was readily accepted by the other media house or media organizations. This shows that media houses and media organizations don’t give a damn to principles and ethical codes of journalism. This is very sad. Media houses and media organizations in the State need to have a common understanding in this issue.
Journalism has come a long way in Manipur but most us are yet to know whether we are really informed or manipulated. To me the people of Manipur are being controlled by the media. And this is where, I think the media has overstepped. This is another big challenge to the future of media and its relationship with the society.
There has been lots of talk about media’s from mainland India sidelining the happenings of North eastern states. It’s a fact. I am sure you agree. Similarly, the hill districts fumed a lot about being sidelined by the mailand Manipur media. This is also true. I hope you will also agree with me too. How do we bridge this gap is also another big challenge.
In Manipur, apart from the vernaculars, all the major media houses are located at the State Capital area. In respect of staffing pattern also 95 percent are from the one community (I am not questioning about the staffing pattern at all the but just showing the configuration). But over 70 percent of readership of the popular English dailies are from the hill Districts (correct me if I am wrong).
The gap has been appreciably largely bridged these days with every media houses keeping Correspondents at the respective District Hqrs – a Correspondent with a consolidative meagre salary of Rs. 4000/5000 or even less a month with about 5000/6000 sq.kms geographical area as his or her beat. How on earth do you think will the Correspondent perform his or her duty? In fact this is sheer unimaginable. Irrational payment of salaries, behind the Majithia wage board, is big challenge for District Correspondents. In most case also, the Correspondents are simply kept aloof as non-accounted staff except the story they filled. As they are seemingly non-accounted, their mistakes were left uncorrected, they failed to accustom with the in-house style of writing too. And they continue to grow old with the same mistakes without reaching the mark. This gives bad reputation to the media house which he works. At the same time his chance to grow in the profession was suffocated.
In democracy, right of the majority prevails, but how do we determined this majority is another big challenge for the media. Does it mean media has the right to sideline the minority? In a true sense of term here comes the question of empathy. Lack of empathic exercise amongst the various media persons in Manipur is a big challenge to the sanctity of journalism as the most neutral body on earth. Looking at social issues from a seemingly pre-determined view point of one’s interest only usually results ‘hurt feeling’ the so-called most dangerous emotion on earth, to another.
In Manipur there are many instances of portraying non issues as main issues. We all know that communal harmony is the most important need of Manipur. But reporting on such activities was given a back seat while militant ambushes were giving a front seat. Rather, we should be exploring stories of those people which work hard to mend the broken threat, the activities of those neighbours which continue to maintain friendly atmospheres amidst the conflict. We need to remember that it is not everyone which are firing the guns or pulling the trigger.
Instead of giving front page to car thieves, smugglers, rape accused etc. It will be much better to focus on the adoption of a village by our MP and MLAs and so on. In other word we need to focus more on positive things rather than the negative things.
Manipur government being a welfare government has indeed been very benevolent to media. This is indeed a laudable effort of people’s government. The government through DIPR has also been giving out government information everyday at Imphal. However, failure of District information offices at the respective District Hqrs is a great set back. Almost all the Districts have vernacular dailies.
To conclude I would like to come to term that it is easier said than done, I myself being a journalist understand the ground difficulties, may be who knows I am the worse, but what I meant by this presentation is to call on every journalist to start practicing the positive, to cut down our ego, to learn on walking the tight rope, to have more empathic sense and to maintain the sanctity of journalistic principles and ethics.
Let us all work to make journalism for solution and not for problem.
(This paper was presented by Sothing Simray, Ex-President, Manipur Hills Journalists’ Union, on the seminar organised by DIPR on occasion of National Press Day, at 1st MR Banquet Hall on Nov. 16, 2017)