It is well understood that the role of media in today’s world is immense for any kind of developmental works as well as conflict resolution, and so on. In the context of Manipur, working with the media has become all the more difficult. Going through various reports, intermittently, by the All Manipur Working Journalist Union (AMWJU), indicate that they are at times under severe pressure; be it from the underground groups (organized as well as unorganized) or other avenues of power. These lead not only to the disturbances in their work but obviously leads to deprivation of right to information on the part of the general public. No sensible person, who really cares about the welfare of people, would ever think of intervention to media.
In the present scenario of Manipur, where there are lots of problems related to ethnic conflict, implementation of equitable development work, insurgency, organized and unorganized crime, corruption (including front and back door entries), forgery, doubts on nexus between the political and military bases, misuse of public and development funds, excuses and advantages taken in the name of all these problems, and many more…make the common people suffer incredibly. As a result, people are confused, stricken by fear, rendered helpless and finally, their minds are incapacitated so as to render them “unthinkable”. In the midst of these all, people are fighting for a reasonable place, and of course about survival. And ultimately for their survival as well as for their children’s future, they have to depend on the media, not only for information but also about the means to survival itself.
Most of the seminars organized by the Government and civil society organizations regarding the problems of Manipur conclude that the voice of the people is the most important element of progress. People need to be assertive, they say. Constant vigilance on the part of the people is of utmost need against any system in order to check wrongs and mis-governance. Here, whether the people have been strangled not to release their voice by the State and non-State actors is a different story. We have witnessed ample rallies, protests, dharnas, appraisals and many other forms of democratic movements undertaken by the people against the state and non-state actors. Basically, in other words, people have strived to address their voice.
However, all these forms of assertions have failed to bring about any positive changes. This is precisely because media have failed to carry further the voices of the people. Perhaps, you may say otherwise but this is what I do really feel. And I do hope that my fellow denizens also feel the same. Or otherwise, such a state of misfortune could have evolved because media happens to be the only source of information for the general public. And having acknowledged the deficiency, media houses could have taken a ride over the people.
Yet, let us look at the other possibilities. For example, let me ascertain that we are in an age of information. Endorsing such a view necessarily means that every wrong doings in any system ought to be leaked through the media. And when such genuine leakages do occur, people will surely support the media and in a way help in keeping in check the system in question. For example, landing of former CMs, MPs, bureaucrats, and other government servants in the jail through revelations by the media have received popular support from the people. Such leakages of information and breakthroughs are matter of pride not only for media houses but are also regarded as success of public vigilance.
Efforts on the part of the media for research, investigation and other add-ons to put the culprits in place who have erred are not only regarded as mere competitions among media houses but as proof of their commitment to public service. Such efforts on the part of media, for transparent and genuine news, have led them to be called as the fourth estate (pillar) of modern democracy.
But the reality in Manipur puts to shame the work ethics of the media houses. Why is that the media are regarded as mouth pieces of the political leaders, contractors and the bureaucrats? Why is that we’re getting the feeling that they are being used by the powers that be against the wishes of the people? Let’s have a look at the following to put our ideas into perspective:
1. Shortages of fossil foil: Media personnel and concerned Ministers brush shoulders in gatherings but none dares to ask the Ministers about the priority of issues in hand. At the most they end up talking about difficulties of standing in ques but never about building up a perspective or “story” about the genuine problem. Does it imply that there is a time and place for asking specific questions or are they just carried away by the dole-outs issued to them in terms of food or clothing or other benefits?
2. Issue of corruption: National media have hounded the Union Cabinet Ministers about the 2G scam or the recently concluded Common Wealth Games given any opportunity, anywhere and any place. Yet, in the case of Manipur, even when roads have been coated with a thin brush of tar and grasses stick up like freshly sown paddy saplings, media personnel are silent. Take the case of the tar road inside the D.M. College complex. So far, none of the media have reported on the deplorable state of roads in Manipur.
3. Persistency of issues: The breakthrough in Jessica Lal murder case in Delhi has a lot to do with the persistency on the part of the media houses, which finally helped in bringing justice. But what about the question of persistency in the case of the media in Manipur. One day they report, and then the issues are left over to gather cobwebs in a silent corner. Take the case of the numerous murder cases by the armed forces in Manipur (starting from case of Sanamacha to Manorama Devi to Rabina and Sanjit, etc.). Or take the instance of the tripartite talk in Senapati regarding the claim of statehood/Union territory by the motivated Nagas? Other than reporting, has the media intervened to form a public opinion? Whatever has happened to investigative journalism and the issue of justice?
Such being the state of affairs of the media in Manipur, one cannot but help to ask if the media has become a partner of the more powerful and the influential. Or the larger issue is, if they have been coerced to carry news only of the more powerful, or reported only the ones which are brought to their office and coerced to be published by some people for their self aggrandizement.
In a jocular vein, the local media is turning out to be a notice board for inauguration publicity, wedding ceremony, advertisement and senseless appeals including changes of name, loss of married women, lost and found itineraries and so on. Why more spaces cannot be devoted to livelihood issues, daily woes afflicting the common masses such as non-availability of kerosene oil, PDS scam, traffic mismanagement, deplorable situation of roads, erratic power supply, and so on with some sincere inputs from your ends. That will at least console the hearts of those souls who are the invisible victims of the system.