Suspending social media services Media left in the lurch

First it was the Tribal Solidarity March. Then came reports of a number of houses, Government offices and vehicles burnt in the stand off between groups of people. As in any trouble in the past, trouble started in a corner of Manipur-a village that lies between Churachandpur and Moirang in Bishnupur district-and thanks to some key board warriors and social media superstars trouble soon spread to other parts of the State. The result is there for all to see. First it was mobile data services which were told to shut down and now this has come to  broadband services including Reliance Jio Fibre, Airtel Xtreme Black, BSNL and FTTH and the ban is set to continue for the next five days. A reflection of the far reaching impact of indiscriminate utilisation of what modern technology has to offer mankind. Let the ban continue until things improve, but the ban on broadband services has also dealt a crippling blow to the newspaper houses which rely on the internet and the e-mail services widely. The situation is bad, it is critical and making things worse for the media persons is the inability/refusal of the relevant Government authority to issue curfew passes to journalists who have to cover the day’s events. And to set the record straight, let it be clear that when one talks about the media, it should be understood beyond the reporters who one gets to encounter on the roads and the streets and during press conferences and programmes, but also others who are engaged with the media firm. This will include the machine men-the men responsible for operating the printing machine, the boys in the circulation section whose job it is to distribute the day’s paper to the distributors or hawkers as understood in the local parlance, the computer boys, the boys and girls in the advertisement section etc and it is via the joint efforts of all different sections that the day’s paper is able to reach the hands of the subscribers every morning. Now with no curfew passes issued to all those engaged in the job of bringing out the day’s paper, no one seems to know how things will unfold in the coming days.
Even as the media is caught in this unenviable position, the Government would need to seriously think whether it should be left to the key board warriors and superstars on the social media to disseminate information in whichever way they want. The net is down here, no doubt about it, but information of exaggerated reports or plain misinformation may always be given by skipping the social media and spread the same to other parts of the country where a sizeable number of students from Manipur and elsewhere stay and study. This is besides those who are employed in different parts of the country. The newspapers are run by professionals and guided by a code of conduct and it would be far more reasonable to let them do the job of disseminating the correct information to the public. This is where a rethink is necessary on the refusal or inability of the department concerned to issue the necessary curfew passes to all those engaged with the media houses in one capacity or the other. This is again where the Government would need to seriously think over the wisdom of banning even the broadband services in newspaper houses. The broadband service offered to the media houses may be relaxed keeping in mind the exigency of the situation and the Government should seriously consider the possibility of asking the firms providing broadband service to the media houses to continue with their job. The technicalities involved in making this possible may best be left to the experts but this is a line which may be seriously explored. Else there would be no mechanism to check spread of misinformation and propaganda.