Leader Writer: Paojel Chaoba
Recently, there was an ‘exclusive’ report in a vernacular newspaper Sanaleibak. The story was of an incident which occurred at Loktak lake in which some officials of the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) approached a settlement area on motorboats and tried to dismantle the huts built on the floating vegetation forcibly. It continued that some 50 women ran out of these huts without any clothes on, thus shaming the LDA officials to shy away.
This report was challenged by the All Loktak Lake Fisherman Union of Manipur (ALLAFUM) and a press conference was held in the regard at Manipur Press Club. The irate womenfolk whose subsistence is derived from the lake were righteously irked with the news. They clarified categorically on the impossibility of such an incident taking place at the lake without their notice, plus it was pointed out that the news report had quoted the source of the news as culled from an LDA official. The women told media persons that the image of the women around the Loktak area were tarnished by the news and demanded a clarification from the concerned publication.
Post the conference, the activists saw the morning editions. Most of the reports were toned down to such a level as akin to killing the story and burying it in the inside pages. Some popular publications even left out the news of the press conference. The local media made it a point that the name of the paper was omitted and politely termed it as a “vernacular paper”, which if not for the strictures by the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, AMWJU, in all fairness and natural retribution should have been clearly mentioned.
The media has a role of providing information to the masses and if possible with strict adherence to media ethics. Ethics in the media is always practiced on a self regulatory basis beside the ground rules laid down by the Press Council of India (PCI). One of the main objectives of a free press is to maintain neutrality and the news to be printed after taking both sides of a story. Though, sometimes this may also be problematic according to the type of news to be culled, as for instance; a bomb may explode and one cannot dig out the perpetrator without the latter claiming the incident though a medium of communication.
However, a story which has merit should be investigated in detail and this should remain a major prerogative of the ethical scribe. All reputed media organizations should guarantee this condition. This is so as to avoid nepotism and to do justice to the story, hence leading to democratizing the media.
But, in this land locked state, the advent of mass communication may have come a long way from Hijam Irabot’s cyclostyled ‘Meitei Chanu’ in 1922 to the new wave printing technology of present.
But, despite the quality upgradation in printing machinery, the same cannot be said of the reportage or editing policies. There seems of a certain lacking with the operations of the local media. The aforesaid reportage of the Loktak dwellers which were obviously not in tandem with the finer ethics of media is an example. The fishers of the lake have a legitimate right to voice their grievances to the papers and further publication, as their statement or allegation against said paper holds much water. As a matter of fact, the said newspaper should have been made compelled by the law to publish an appropriate and proportionate apology at exactly the same spot on the front page that the contested news was published. For this to happen, the complainants should have invoked the relevant law by filing a defamation suit, in a relevant court of law. Such a recourse would have ensured a more legitimate, wider and fuller coverage of the event in all newspapers of the state. Once the matter becomes a legal issue, the media would have been bound by the law’s course rather than be restricted by the AMWJU custom. It would have been legally established beyond all reasonable doubt whether the report by the said newspaper amounted to slander or else the women were making unsubstantiated allegation. However, even if the matter was not taken to this length, it still remains a matter of debate whether the rest of the media should have exonerated the newspaper in question so lightly for what is now deemed to be false and damaging on the reputation of these women.
Indeed, killing the story or burying it unceremoniously just points to the obvious that the some of the heads of the editing staff are not up to the mark and their competency level is just mediocre. It surmounts to such a manner that the media remains untouchable and the media houses need to hug up one another despite making inexcusable mistakes. The local rule laid down by the journalist union that the name of a publication cannot be put in another paper borders on nepotism rather than unity. It bogs down the rightful voices and upholds the sordid impunity of a media organization. Such unprofessionalism and the behavior which makes one look at the media as a ‘mafia’ has to be checked and the some of the top editorial ‘cartels’ needs to be ousted to herald in a free and neutral media.
It is felt that the practice of every principled scribe is also to challenge authority, sometimes to usher in development and do away with corruption, and it cannot be said that the media as a whole is untainted. The media houses should learn to be courageous and be capable to confront the devil himself, provided for the right and just cause. The photos of Rubina and Sanjit who were killed at Khwairamband bazar and the photos of Sanjit’s fake encounter appearing in the Tehelka magazine instead of a local publication exemplifies the bravado of the local media head honchos.
There is a saying in Meitei dialect, “Shaheileitabajaga da kae-gaenayumbioi” or roughly translated means that, “In absence of quality timber,one has to make do with twigs for pillars.” Rampant corruption and mediocrity bogs down our society from ushering in quality development. It is time that the zombic silence of the public be broken and the righteous voices of the masses be heard and echoed to all, to herald in a better tomorrow.