Selling a headache, legitimately

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By RK Lakhi Kant

My colleagues have often complained over the years that I do not take proper interest in news reports which are connected with militancy in the state. Often they get annoyed that I do not project these reports in our newspaper with the due attention which they deserve. Let me confess at the onset that I have no knowledge of the affairs of the militants in Manipur, in the north east, or any other part of India.

Before I took up a newspaper job in Manipur about a decade back my only experience with terrorism was limited to the uneasiness one felt at the back of the mind while traveling in the public buses in New Delhi, where the back of every seat had a alert printed on it asking the commuters to look under their seats for any suspicious objects which could be a bomb. As an average Indian, terrorism was something which was far far removed from the affairs of our everyday lives in the city.
And so when I landed up in my Imphal office I felt really odd a number of times because the one thing the journalists here were very thorough about was their knowledge of militancy in the state, and they talked endlessly about this topic more than anything else. The one motivating factor which has remained over the years, even till today, for the journalists, is the joy they feel when they are told they are to visit a militant camp in some remote area or meet some of its leaders. Militancy, according to a personal observation, is the single largest motivating factor, not only in the now mushrooming newspaper offices in the state but also for most of the other people in the state.

Here lies the crux of this write-up. How do those like myself who are totally removed and uninterested in the affairs of militancy maneuver their way out of having to handle news reports which are related to militancy. Of course my colleagues are always there to help me out but my previous ingraining and my reluctance to handle these matters make me recoil from everything related to this subject – a common behavior which everyone shares in any profession in a larger city like New Delhi in anything to do with militants, criminals etc.

There is not a single newspaper in India as far as I know which allows militants to use its news space as blatantly as done in Manipur. So much so that some of the newspapers in the state are even openly known to be run by the militants. Propaganda material from the militants reach the newspaper offices every other day, and while news editors of other leading newspapers in the country may not think twice before consigning them to the dustbins, in Imphal the journalists are expected not only to translate, re-write, edit and give prime space to them on the front pages, but also to know every little detail about the way the outfits are run, have grown over the years, and also the who’s-who list of the militant leaders.
This brings into question our own manner of working in the newspaper offices. I feel for me it is any day better to be the odd man out and keep away from these matters. I also feel I am contributing enough for my newspaper. By my own standards today I know so much (or so little!) to even venture out to write a whole article on this curious problem I face on the news desk.

And with over 10 years experience in how to avoid this problematic matter, I would go ahead to even make a few suggestions to the newspaper offices, journalists’ bodies in the state and also the government. We are all in it together. Some may have a bit of a extreme outlook, others may be fence sitters, and still others like myself may much rather keep away from the topic altogether.

So to settle the matter we could invent something. At least one large newspaper group in India is supposed to be running a lucrative ‘paid news’ which runs news alongside the normal news which is given space for its editorial value – for a price. We may trim down or add on to this concept to more or less suit our needs, and come up with our own Manipuri concept of paid news.

If the government cannot save us from the militancy heat we have to devise some way to save ourselves from it. Let the militants (or anybody else with the moolah) do the writing, editing etc. of their own material and choose the space too. We’ll just put it where you want it for a price. I myself and some others may be averse to the idea of taking money from a militant, but I guess it would be a better option to take the money rather than go through the other related problems of over-exposure which people like me face. Fair enough for everyone involved, I’m sure! And also we would be putting some corrupt journalists out of business in the bargain.

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