Media and Mainstream

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A conclave for promotion and bringing media focus on the Northeast, an initiative of Rotary International District 3240 and hosted by Rotary Club of Gauhati West under the theme `Light up the North East` which concluded yesterday at the city`™s brand new 5-star Radison Blu Hotel, threw up some valuable insights into the way the media functions, and also on certain insecurities the Northeast suffers from. The discussions were generally on the way the national media portrays the Northeast and little about the state of the media within the Northeast, in particular the working conditions of local journalists by and large. Though this is unfortunate, it is understandable, for a single day workshop on such a large issue could not have touched on every aspect of the media in the Northeast.

What was however interesting was, there seemed to be an immense concern of what was unanimously seen as a grossly inadequate and lopsided coverage of the Northeast and its issues in what are called the national media. The discussions were expectedly flooded with the dreary old arguments of the national media, interested as they are only in catching eyeballs, normally go for the sensational and exotic thereby always managing to give a skewed picture of the Northeast. But if attentive listeners were able not to fall asleep through the routine chants of these homilies, there were new insights to be had too, including from these homilies. Why are important issues of the Northeast not newsworthy enough to the rest of the country? Or to put it another way, why are important issues of the Northeast deemed not important for the rest of the country? It would be wrong to blame the national media alone for this either, for the media, as everywhere else caters to popular demands. Any student of journalism would know how this relationship between media and audience is determined by the thumb rule of the `five Ws and one H` (the `Ws` and `H` standing for `who, when, what, where, why and how). In other words, the Northeast does not evoke public interest so much for the media to take interest in it. Many remedial measures came up, some again repetition of old homilies and others very sound and refreshing. The best of these, in our opinion was not to wait and plead for the national media`™s attention, but to strengthen the media in the Northeast, both in terms of steeling the local media, as well as Northeast journalists penetrating the national media at the decision making and agenda setting levels. This however can only be achieved through elaborate and long term strategies. It would be good if the media leadership in Manipur too take note of this and begin to think of ways to facilitate such an outcome.

Meanwhile, to go back to the question of the lack of the national public interest, therefore also national media interest in the Northeast, perhaps it would be helpful to refer back to Benedict Anderson`™s 1982 classic `Imagined Communities`, where he argues the nation is an imagined community. An individual can at the best have 100 to 200 actual friends he can remember and also desires to be in touch with. Anderson`™s book of course was written before facebook and other digital social networking sites where an individual can have many more `friends` than he personally knows. But even the largest social networking community would be dwarfed in comparison to a national community. As for instance, in India, a nation of over 1.2 billion people, every citizen is supposed to be bound by the imagined community of being Indian and have concerns about each other. One of the binding threads of such an imagined community, Anderson notes, is the national media. When the national community and the national media have little or no interest in any region, it implies that the region in question has fallen off the psychological map of concern of the nation. This should explain why the national community and national media become concerned of the Northeast only when insurgency violence hits out at the Indian State and its institutions. In other words, the responsibility for bridging this psychological disconnect between what is mainstream India and the Northeast, is heavier on the mainstream than the Northeast. Therefore, the emphasis of nation building endeavours cannot justifiably be carried out solely under the tired and charmless slogan calling for the Northeast to join the mainstream. It should instead be for the mainstream to join the Northeast.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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