In the news room, there are times when a few lines that come in the form of a press release triggers off some serious thinking. Mostly, it is the flurry of such releases that come in with seemingly polite instructions on how much of column space and which page number though of course, it should be Page 1 that occupies our minds. It is not too sure just how many people read and take seriously what press notes say since the standard for every such note is to put the line of thought or action of the person or organization that has set out the release. Then there is the social factor too: where living in a tight knit small community means that everyone who knows a staff at the new room will put their pressure on putting ‘their’ releases. No matter if it they happen to be of the most inconsequential nature. For them, it is imperative that they see the light of the day and again on Page 1. How do the desk staff at newspaper rooms cope with the pressure would make a modern epic tale of bearing it all, letting some go to the dust bin and hoping that no will complain the next day. The media is in no doubt in a critical position in Manipur today. There are now more newspapers and more news agencies doing its job of informing people and shaping opinions. The advent of social media and the opening of newspaper websites also facilitate more interactive processes with the ‘like’ button becoming the alternative of a letter of appreciation. Yet on the ground, newspapers function under the shadow of directives that may or may not be too polite. The notion of a ‘free press’ or a ‘free media’ is debunked every time there is a mail from one group or the other that hints at how important the release is. Over and above this, is the implied accusation that the Manipur media is biased for not using the actual language being used by certain civil society groups. Whoever heard of editorial liberties are certainly absent in the state.
Yet, these are symptomatic of the conflict situation in the state: the conflict for power, resources, a greater say, for identity, for ethnicity and recognition. Increasingly, there is the growing tendency for press conferences alleging everything under the sun without any room for verifying claims and counter claims. The media is party to the issue when it does not bother to verify the claims or counter claims. We end up saying we have resource constraints and that we cannot possibly follow up every story. And then we end up waking the next day and filling the pages with counter allegations and counter press conferences. In the process, we shortchange our readers who may well be wanting to read something else than is being said and challenged. Given the nature of stories that we wake up every day to read or hear around us, it is not really surprising that the most read and appreciated piece of news or reporting happen to be about stories of hope and inspiration. The news stories about a woman mechanic and a woman auto driver still brings in voices of admiration and request for such life experiences to be shared.
Maybe, it is the fatigue of negative news and those of gloom and doom. Or maybe, it is the stage where people at large want to have something working and happening but on our social networking pages, the photo of locally made ice creams brought in the most readership. The same happened in the cases of two women entrepreneurs who took to cake baking. There is a genuine appreciation and an eagerness to recognize local talent and local products that is so different from a phase where everything local was suspect and not to be dwelt on. Maybe the public wants something to feel good about. And maybe, the readers will shape how news gets shaped. Hopefully, there will be a day when so and so groups will not pull the shots literally on what piece of news gets printed on which page and readers by their encouragement sets the tone on what gets on the pages. Amen!