In what is now becoming a common phenomenon across the country including in Manipur, there is a serious malady afflicting self- anointed moral guardians, civil society groups and others today. Just as it has become easy for anyone to profess involvement and concern with social issues with the mere click of a ‘like’ button on social networking sites or by signing on endless online petitions without having to engage in the issues such petitions talk about, the interactive nature of various media foras today are contributing to a new breed of rabble rousers. More than anything, the advent of breathless TV reporting and the short time span given to air viewpoints in the context of a mad race for audience eye balls means that speeches can get reported out of context and in the process, take on a different life of its own entirely. The mushrooming of news channels means that this media has a wide canvass of people and issues to fill up its programs. Nearer home, the spectacle of what is considered newsworthy and the lengths that TV reporters have been known to do are clear in the sensational twists in the lives of people that gets aired in the news channels of Assam. There is also the Guwahati public molestation incident that took place at GS Raod, which is alleged to have been instigated by a journalist present at the site.
In Manipur too, there are people who are eager to take affront and announce bans for every social issue and non issue. Some years ago, a popular Shumang Leela spoofed the all too familiar practice of women leaders who go on shouting sprees once the TV people enter the picture. While a generalization of media behavior cannot be arrived at without a specialized study, one cannot ignore the reality of how ranting voices can lead to an accepted norm after media picks it up. As a case in point, there is the recent media coverage following the Chandel incident of December 16. The local cable TV telecasted endless numbers of TV stars going over the board with their comments which should have focused on the matter of a woman’s safety and the physical safety of artistes went on to matters of community and territorial. The issue of the physical assault with an intention to molest is now totally forgotten and is not talked and that is the most unfortunate aspect of it all.
On the national level, newspapers have the Press Council of India and other bodies, including media watch groups to keep track of what is being reported and how. News channels on the national level along with entertainment channels have a regulatory board that the public can write in to with their complaints. But essentially, it is the language media that falls out of the loop of scrutiny even by non state agencies due to issues with language comprehension on one hand by other mainstream media watch groups and the lack of such agencies at the local level. A scan of the local papers during the Chandel incident will be worth a serious study and can be a case study for people who analyze conflict reporting and study social relations in the context of the media. The other nuance is also the fact that what gets out in visual and electronic media appeals much faster than the printed media form and feeds into the nature of print reporting.
As much as the ‘role of media’ is continuing to be a popular topic of discussion in various seminars and workshops, it needs to be remembered that without any concrete work plan in place or a set of pointers being framed and implemented, nothing can really come up in this realm, except for resolutions and popular quotes that will be left discarded. Much more than the media role in a particular context, it would do well to give due attention to what an unrestrained and irresponsible media can end up doing. There could be merit in setting up an independent media watch group made of senior citizens that could keep a track of media reporting in the state, which can submit its report for discussion for a particular time period. This of course would be following in the footsteps of what is being practiced on the national level and in some other states too. But then, good initiatives are always meant to be followed.