There have been plenty of criticisms by so many self appointed media pundits about how journalism in Manipur fails to excite. While there is much truth that journalism here is stuck in a time warp, failing to attract the cream of the employable crop of young job seekers in the state, largely on account of the poor service conditions and poor salaries, after witnessing what is happening in the Mecca of Indian journalism – New Delhi – one is left to wonder if there is no virtue at all in the poverty that the state media is thus far condemned to. At least journalists here are far from being power brokers that some of the iconic figures of the profession in New Delhi are turning out to be. True, they would have had all along catered to the exquisite taste of the class of readers and pundits ever hungry for some excitement in news reporting, with their intimate knowledge of the power brokering and horse trading processes in the corridors of power, but look at the harm they have done to journalism by blurring the line between news gathering and public relation exercises. But journalism, especially those working in the cash-flushed corporate environ of the metropolises, is becoming a whole new ball game altogether. In the footsteps of ruthless market worshipping media magnets such as Rupert Murdoch, many home grown Murdochs it seems have also begun to believe news is the stuff to fill space between advertisements. The phenomenon of what has come to be known as “paid news” rules the Indian media scenario so overwhelmingly today that even in backwater states like Manipur, which are relatively untouched by the phenomenon, pundits are parroting the calls for excitement and titillation in news reportage, which in the first place paved the way for the kind of degeneration of the kind now so notoriously known as Radia Tapes and Barkhagate etc.
This notwithstanding, the plight of state journalists cannot but be seen against the larger backdrop of economic stagnation the state is in. What the journalists on the average get are just about the local market standard. If the protected cocoon of the government job market and the foreign funded NGO sector were not to be, probably there would not have been too much disparity between the salaries of those determined by the market and those artificially determined by factors other than the market. Living standards then would have found an equilibrium, though much lower than many of those more fortunate in the government services enjoy. As the saying goes, when the tide ebbs, all the boats ebb, and consequently when the tide rises, all the boats rise together. The point is, the government which is at the driver’s seat of the state’s economy must strive to have the economic tide rise, so that all rise together, and not just a select section rises and the rest sink. A Keynesian generosity and confidence of spirit to muster courage to inject fresh liquidity into the private sector (definitely not the media alone), even in the midst of general financial hardship, is what is called for in this mission. After all, the government cannot bring every job seeker under its direct protective umbrella as its employment ceiling is limited, and hence must find ways to create respectable jobs in the potentially much bigger employment sector of private enterprises. Enforce labour standards, but after first ensuring these standards do not call for martyrdom of entrepreneurs.
Returning to the plight of the media, it must be said the only other profession with similar working hours as the media is the police. They too work day and night and on holidays too. But the latter are compensated by other entitlements, including the provision for generous leaves. Even on this count, media workers suffer a deficit. For long, there were press holidays on the average of a day a month, coinciding with one festival or the other that the profession reserved for itself, but this too has been sized down considerably in keeping with the demands of readers and owners. The only ones on whose shoulders the added pressures land are the foot soldiers of the profession. The moot point is, in the uplift of the standard of journalism in the state, the onus cannot just be on the journalists alone, but also on the readers, the policy framers of the state’s economic affairs. Until then, journalism and so too other private sector undertakings, will continue to be generally moribund, although as in sports, some would from time emerge as shooting stars to light up the skies. The cream would go for the cosier government services or else set out to look for greener pastures away from the state. Gabriel Garcia Marquez called such a situation so provocatively as the damnation of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.