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Mass Media: A personal assessment by way of tribute to Eigya Gopal
By Amar Yumnam
The mass media in Manipur is still largely a playfield of the print media; the newspapers yet play the big role despite the emergence of both public and private players in electronic media. There has been a major structural transformation and enhanced social responsibility of the print media during the last two decades or so. Eigya Gopal has played a major role in this entire transformation. Indeed any analytical history of mass media of the period spanning the last decade of twentieth century and the first decade of twenty-first would be so incomplete without examining the contribution of him.
Before The Present Phase: Before the present highly competitive phase of newspaper publication business, newspapers had the two characteristics. First, in so far news was concerned, if one has read one newspaper, one had read all the newspapers. This was fundamentally because the news gathering was based basically on government handouts. Second, the differences in perspectives, if any, were based upon the political party which was sponsoring the publication rather than views based on examination of social analytics.
Then during the 1970s and 1980s there was a perceptible change in the news appetite of the people triggered by the rise in the level and depth of literacy among the people. Readers were definitely beginning to be more demanding and more critical in their approach. Besides, the social scene as well was beginning to take a more radical turn. It was during this period that two newspapers really started to occupy the space and attract the attention of the readers. One was the Hueiyen Lanpao with the radical leadership and powerful editorials of Bharat Bhushan; this newspaper had an eye for critical social issues. The other was the Poknapham of Eigya Gopal with its literary and literature oriented approach.
While the Hueiyen Lanpao was a medium for critical socio-political analyses, the Poknapham was a medium for the litterateurs and literary oriented groups. Manipur has had a strong foundation of people of Manipuri literature concerned with society. So these two players in the mass media started occupying the social space of Manipur in both competitive and complementary ways. We saw the onset of a dynamic interaction of the publishers’ myopia of profit and the readers’ demand for truth. Since there was very little scope for competition in prices, the foundation for a competition in content was laid during this period.
Then came the liberalisation and globalisation processes beginning with the onset of the 1990s. This heightened the competition for content and different presentations of truths based on understanding of the changed national and global circumstances. Eigya Gopal from this time till his death was a product of this new competitive environment. While the Hueiyen Lanpao and the Poknapham competition of the 1990s showed that newspapers could flourish on new presentations of truths without compromising on the need for revenue of the publishers.
While the Hueiyen Lanpao disappeared from the scene all of a sudden for reasons still needing examination by those interested in this industry, the Poknapham not only sustained but as well emerged stronger.
The Impact and The Lesson: The competition for varied interpretation and presentation of truths by the mass media while at the same time yielding revenue for the publishers only served to further the appetite of the readers. In fact, we saw the emergence of heterogeneity among readers. Earlier, this heterogeneity could not emerge or rather could not take roots because the industry was just not capable of meeting the demands. But now that the emergent competition had proved that the industry was improving in its capability to cater to the heterogeneous demands of readers only served to widen the heterogeneous demands.
Besides, the sustenance and growth of Eigya Gopal’s venture and the perfect maintenance of publisher’s biases without hurting the revenue had in it the business lessons for others. Two features characterised his endeavour. First, as mentioned above, his strength was the literary and the Manipuri literature orientation of his paper. Second, his editorials doggedly avoided taking a stand and commenting on critical social issues. The publisher’s bias for self was critically evident.
The sudden demise of the Hueiyen Lanpao was felt by the industry as well as the reading public. The heterogeneous appetite of the readers, having been already aroused, looked forward to newspapers having the critical approach of the Hueiyen Lanpao and different from the literary orientation of the Poknapham. This was captured by new entrepreneurs who were more exposed to modern education. This is the present phase of the highly competitive and business oriented newspapers.
Now What: While Eigya Gopal had shown the business potential of the industry and the earlier Bharat Bhusan phase of Hueiyen Lanpao established the need and relevance for a highly critical newspaper, and thereby laid the foundation for modern competitive phase, the onus is now on the younger generation to take the industry to the next phase of socially responsible existence. First, the media is still not able to really shake the administration even with the presentation of “strong truths”. Why this still happens is an issue needing deep scrutiny. Second, there is still an absolute disconnect between the issues confronting the land and people of the State and the electoral outcomes. Here we need to examine as to whether the media have failed to arouse the consciousness of the people to the core. Further, quite often the non-state actors are enforcing the closure of media houses for days together. We should be pondering as to why the media have so far not been able to turn the wrath of the heterogeneous readers on the agents blocking the supply of truth to them. In short, we look forward to a further dynamic interaction of publisher biases, reader biases, journalist biases and all other biases in an atmosphere unhindered by any kind of imposition, state or non-state. Any society needs truths, and Manipur particularly cannot afford to lag behind in the digging for truth. Only when the media in Manipur prove their mettle by living up to the challenges, would the soul of Eigya Gopal rest in piece
[Note: The article was published in Imphal Free Press on 18-Aug-2010]
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