By Iboyaima Laithangbam
It is good news for the denizens of the NE India that at least 20 foreign magazines had formally approached the Indian government for permission to bring out Indian editions. Understandably, the Indian government is staving off the issue on purely selfish and political considerations. Because the foreign magaizines will not be amenable to some suggestions in these days of paid news. What is more, these magazines will expose the corrupt practices and the political underhand games in the most stunning and uncompromising manner. If and when a permission is given to these magazines the NE region which is India`s trouble spot will get due attention and exposure.
About 30 years back some Indian magazines, India Today, Gentleman, The Week, to name a few, had paid a respectable attention to the problems facing the NE region. They had regularly published my articles. India Today was one of the national magazines which even had a staff in Guwahati. However sooner than expected the editors had emulated the political leaders of mainland India in treating the NE region in the most despicable way. By now no national magazine is covering the region despite the fact that for various reasons it is burning. The last article on Manipur Frontline had published was an article by me on the completion of 10 years of fasting by Sharmila. The Week sometimes publishes snippets of Assam. But the story by the corespondent is so severely scissored up that almost all readers cannot make head or tail of it. Certainly there is no impact.
A national newspaper like The Hindu had admitted in one recent editorial that people outside Manipur do not know much about Sharmila and her campaign. The people of Manipur are not happy that while the world ignores Sharmila`s crusade the fast for five days by Anna Hazare was headline for several days. Reader`s Digest had spurned the suggestion of an article on Sharmila on the ground that the editors cannot cross check the facts. Though the people in this region are keeping their fingers crossed it has become increasingly certain that the Indian government shall not permit the foreign magazines to bring out Indian editions. Being unbiased magazines they will come out against the government on many issues. The excesses and the carte blanche given to the armed forces in NE India will be exposed with the intensity and tenacity they deserve so much so that some numbered accounts in foreign countries will become unsafe and the Congress government may find it difficult to stall for time.
Manipur gets almost all the Indian magazines. However sale is always in terms of 20 or 30 copies so much so that some publishers had stopped sending copies of the magazines. The readers in Manipur have very little reason to spend Rs 30 or so per magazine since there is no reading material for them. They do not know the locations of Kochi, Udampur or Srirampur and no interest is evinced when issues like RSS, female feticide or Singur are published. Since there is no sale in Manipur and there is no government office or private company to release advertisements to them the publishers and editors will not publish any story about the NE states.
Purely for commercial considerations Guwahati editions of some newspapers were brought out. One newspaper is doing exceedngly well, circulation wise. Some others had miserably failed in this count and at least one newspaper had closed office in Guwahati after winding up the edition. The editions had sounded the death knell of some Guwahati newspapers. But then at least two of them are bravely having a game fight by bringing out the newspapers against heavy odds. There is bone gnawing fear that such editions may be brought out in other state capitals once the circulation is considerable. However it remains to be seen whether the people in these capitals shall tolerate such media invasions.
Taking advantage of the step motherly treatement meted out to the region there had been some feeble attempts to fill the void by bringing out some regional magazines. However the attempts had failed due to lack of sound finance and professional expertise. While there was always a shoe string budget most of the editors and reporters could not write correct and standard English. One Sikh clown had brought out a magazine with an outlandish title “Beauty Hill Calling”. Though it was made out that it was printed in Itanagar it was actually printed somewhere in New Delhi. The magazine specialised in publishing stories and pictures of Ministers and big shots who came to a tacit understanding with the Editor. A relative of a surrenderee in Guwahati had brought out one magazine. Not surprisingly, he had never paid to the contributors. The magazine became defunct soon. One magazine was doing well and people in the region always looked forward to reading it. However due to wrong editorial policy its populairty had plummeted and it will take a few years to regain its position and respect although the management is trying to claw up. Another magazine which is a replica of The Week, print wise, is yet to make an impact. Because the contents are boring, uneducative and cannot hold the attention of the readers.
Because of the financial constraints and lack of professional expertise there cannot be any magazine in the region which is an alternative to the prejudiced and insensitive national magazines. But in a democracy the voice of the people of this region cannot be suppressed like this. The Hobson`s choice for the people whose voice is thus muffled is to wait for the coming of the foreign magazines. Sharmila, the burgeoning armed movement, excesses, violation of human rights and other misdeeds will be brought to world attention. The Indian government would never like it. In other words, the government will never give the permission for the Indian editions of these magazines.