Gone are the good old days when journalism was a noble profession catering to the needs of the society. Till over four decades ago, a journalist was a hard-boiled crusader for news based on truth. He would be satisfied with a news item prepared by him only after several checking and cross checking. Reporters in those days were known to be travelling for miles together on bicycles over bumpy and virtually non-existent roads in search of authentic news. It was indeed a painstaking mission against all odds for correct news sans any political or communal colour. Accordingly the credibility accorded to a journalist in public domain was extremely high.
With Assam and the Northeast facing the greatest of turbulence and turmoil in its lifeline in the backdrop of issues like the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the NRC, the open attempt to nullify, by means fair or foul, the Assam Accord and the clear threat to the very identity of the indigenous people, the need of the hour is projection of authentic news.
But today, while Information Technology has made mighty strides and continues to accelerate ahead with path-breaking inventions and in the process pushes further the horizon of the media world with every passing day, a sizable section of media reports making the headlines in all formats of reporting appear to be bereft of actual truth. Nay, in some cases, the reports appear to be so coloured, twisted and turned, that the true version seems to be nowhere in the vicinity. Beyond a shadow of doubt, Assam and the Northeast have fallen prey to such misleading journalism over the last couple of decades or so.
While there is general decadence and degeneration in the society with dishonesty, fraud, cheating and all kinds of crimes calling the shots across the social spectrum, the genuine journalists of yesteryears have virtually disappeared from amongst the journalistic fraternity in the Northeast. Today, a journalist strictly guided by honesty, professional ethics and commitment to the society in the true sense of the term is indeed a rare entity and constitute a very small segment of the journalistic circle. Significantly, the vast majority of such genuine journalists are invariably found to belong to the financially poorer section of the society.
How bitter a pill it may be to swallow, the highly despicable and condemnable truth is that a sizable section of the media has come under the venomous clout of some of our heavyweight politicians. These heavyweights throw around their ill gotten wealth as bait for selected journalists, many of whom in turn fall in their line. The result being emergence of paid news, concocted news, misleading news and false news, providing political and social mileage to the political masters. Further, a few media houses are also owned by political big wigs by default.
Significantly, that is not the end of the all the dirt that has made way into the world of journalism. The big names in the corporate world also fish in pools that are actually domains of journalists. These business tycoons at times throw in their cards on their own while on other occasions take dictation from their political masters. At times syndicate raj and other mafia dons also play their part. The overall outcome being that paid or concocted news flow in, driving the general news reader into utter confusion and chaos in the face of highly conflicting and controversial news.
Further, causing the Majithia Wage Board recommendations to rot by the way side by many Northeast print media house proprietors with the apparent blessings of the Government, quite a few of such houses pay just peanuts laced with pay-cuts at the fall of the hat, to their staff. This leads to many engaged in reporting or editing to fall in the net of the moneyed kingpins of paid news in order to make their ends meet.
If one may borrow Thomas Hardy’s words “money matter works better” from Jude The Obscure, the feeling does arise that a sizable number of journalists have come under the grip of money power thrown in powerful polluters of journalism.
As of now, by way of example, the issue of massive opposition to the obnoxious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 by the sons and daughters of the soil of Assam, almost on a daily basis, is the news that is rocking Assam. However, there are a handful of media houses that are projecting the news apparently with disdainful contempt in the most casual manner.
One can very well comprehend that these houses are simply ‘yes-men’ of the powers that be whose brain child the Bill is. In the same vein, words are too poor to condemn the brutal attack on frontline civil society activist Agnes Kharshiing allegedly by the coal mafia in East Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya recently. While the role of the administration and the police, particularly during the post assault period, is certainly a suspect, the media has miserably failed to play a pro-active investigative role which was expected of it.
Now that the rot has set in, the conscious section makes a cross-verification of a news by different media outlets to get to the truth or near truth. Unfortunately, very few people have the luxury of so much time in hand to determine the truth. While others go by whatever news they read or hear, the outcome being that the social fabric is hit by disparity and disagreement. This in turn leads to tension and unrest in the society. The gainers are of course the powerful big wigs. With too many unscrupulous players making the scenario murkier by the day, there seems to be no way of putting journalism back on to its original track, at least in Assam and the Northeast.
However, amidst the burgeoning dark clouds, the silver lining is that a section of journalists and commentators, mainly political, continue to pursue their goal with sincerity and honestly. In the process many have over the years fallen to assassins’ bullets. Having said that, the upright journalist feels that the uphill task against those causing immense ill to the society must continue although on several occasions the forces of good suffer the blackest of eclipse in the hands of the forces of evil who often enjoy the blessings of the high and mighty.
Meanwhile, with several burning issues transforming the Northeast into virtually fuming volcano, the advocates of positive journalism in Assam and the Northeast have a challenging task in hand towards maintaining peace and communal harmony among the people of the region. The scribes of the Brahmaputra and the Barak valley have the extra burden of working towards strengthening the bond of friendship between the people of the two valleys. As of now it is simply beyond one’s comprehension as to how much more damage would be caused to the society and body politic of the region by the protagonist of false and misleading news.
Zaheer Akram Bora is a Guwahati based journalist. He can be reached at: [email protected]