The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” - Malcolm X (African Civil Rights activist)
In the nascent stages of media Industry in India and Manipur in particular, the aim was not merely dissemination of information to the public. The people were more concerned about their daily sustenance and also myriad issues such as plagues, famine, and drought dominated public discourse. The Colonial hegemony of the British Empire was so deeply interwoven in the psyche of the masses that the ideas of civil liberties, social equality, democratic principles, free speech was an utopian dream. As every evolution of sorts need radical individuals who within their capacity try to wake up the hoi polloi with ideas which are extreme yet progressive, the media in the country were lucky to have a few. The resolute freedom fighters who were active journalists themselves had realized early that media was one tool which could be wielded with potential to not only rock the very foundation of the mighty colonial empire but also weed out the social manifestation which see one human being as superior or inferior . Mahatma Gandhi had preceded social emancipation over Political emancipation and pursued the former with earnest throughout his political life.
The tiny landlocked kingdom of Manipur had a humble beginning with journalism when a cyclostyled monthly magazine –Meitei Leima in 1917-18 first came into publication. The journalists of the 1940’s had a tumultuous existence with Editor Keisham Kunjabihari of Anouba Pao being one of the first journalists to be arrested. His articles were considered seditious. It is undeniable that the authorities during this period have tried to muffle the voices of dissent and used extensive measures to arrest such growing opinions. The legacy of these eminent journalists of the state and the country of that era were their often call for press freedom. But it is an irony that the very constitution drafted on the backdrop of a prolonged freedom struggle with pangs of oppressed press still fresh on the eve of independence have failed to safeguard freedom of the press which we vehemently argued for. Did the country missed out on an opportunity on press freedom or do we still have enough resources to right the wrongs of the past, is concealed in deep chasm of the future unknown.
There is very little argument on the technological advancement of the industry in Manipur. The state now boasts of a strong media presence which now employs state of the art system to produce fine prints. The Newspaper circulation figures of English, Meiteilon and other tribal dialect local dailies have not set any charts on fire but it has still been able to hold on to a steady growth in recent years. The inter paper rivalry have only egged the scribes to come out with news reports which are original and initiator of social change. These rare breed of Independent and courageous journalists who with their spirit of activism coupled with journalistic responsibilities, though scarce have made the public take notice and maybe shudder the errant lawbreakers with their strong writings.
Despite a strong de novo technology in the form of internet which often tried to whisk away readers, the print media have stood its ground in the state. The newspaper survived the radio, the TV and it will survive the internet. As long as local elders huddle together every morning at local Cha hotels where they discussed at length about stories read from the tea stained newspaper passed on from one table to another, it is safe to say that the print media is here to stay. The rustic charm of newspaper is real and not a myth.
The interconnectivity of remote corners of the globe which is a modern phenomenon of 21st century means that the print media in Manipur can’t live in a visionary cocoon of self insulation. Multiple issues afflict the media today. The media industry of the state which once stood on terra firma of morality and ethics seemed to have muddled somewhere and the once balancing power to the mighty and overzealous Legislative and Executive is now getting attacked and questions about its neutrality fervently raised.
The print industry at times have failed to render its service and when it have been called out to perform the much desired task of a fourth estate of democracy, it has been left wanting. In recent years, the Executive and the Judiciary have been called out for playing servitude to the Legislature and it’s a sad story that the Media is also seen toeing the line. It would not show up or even if they do it is perfunctory. With the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging overhead the media fraternity in form of various legislations, coercions, gross misuse of power; the media is often silenced. India’s ranking has spiraled downwards on the Global Press freedom index, a rating signifying the comparative freedom enjoyed by the media fraternity in the country while performing their duties, and today it stands at a lowly 142nd out of 180 countries. The media belongs to the society and is not immune from the law of the land. It is within the given ambit of legal provisions of the country that media should exercise its rights without fear and apprehension. Maybe a good start would be to call and not fold the cards, who knows the people in the power corridors are just calling a bluff. It is rightly said that fear sells until one stop buying it.
Certain Media houses in an effort to bring in more readers into its fold, often engages in sensationalism. The quality of news is often questionable, and stories are put for print without verifying. The din of fake news keeps getting bigger and bigger. Well-oiled propaganda machinery works full time to feed us with false information which would distract the scrutiny of public from the real issue at hand. It is at times like this, that the print media must take up the responsibility and fill up that trust deficit with news which are accurate, factual and neutral. “Media in the country has been on receiving end of lot of criticism recently; it is up to the people in the media industry to debunk the general conception of the public. The drive to clean the image must come from within. It is only with our sincere work, keeping the ethos of journalism, that we might salvage the pride and glory of this great institution” says Rajkumar Bobbichand, Director, Free Press School of Journalism. Maybe its time the media fraternity go back to the drawing board and relearn how to differentiate the chaff from the grain.
Another challenging aspect of the print media in Manipur is the dwindling number of readers. This is a trend seen in rest of the world. But does it signify that people had stopped caring about the news and events, the answer to that is a resounding no. The modern phenomena of internet have allowed certain freedom to the readers which means they are consuming news digitally.
Newspaper readers in its tangible form are becoming a niche community. Unable to maintain the escalating production cost amidst growing awareness on environmental issues related to the paper industry, a large number of reputable media firms have closed down their print production and have shifted to only a digital presence on the world wide web. The shifts have not been tectonic, but gradual. Only in May this year, 100s of newspaper firms in Australia announced end of their presses and shifted to only digital format. The tech savvy youths of Manipur like their counterparts elsewhere are hard pressed for time and always seem to be in a hurry. The social media though unmatched in its speed of news dispensing, can’t be a match for an organized media firm. The print media of Manipur having realized that, have atleast a social media presence where news is updated from time to time. The financial viability of such a measure is though questionable and shift to an online subscription system where limited number of free articles per month to non-subscribers, limited access of article content, have to become a norm.
The print media in Manipur may not be on life support as of now, but the writings are already on the wall that unless we arrest the slide, the press would be reduced to a mere vestigial whose existence or not have no significant impact on the society. The day maybe nearer than what we would want to believe.