Government and Media

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The Manipur media’s largely adversarial role in the governance process has often been read as a basic anti-establishment characteristic. This is naive for this kind of challenges ultimately has the best interest of the establishment as intent. It is, to use a cliche, a demonstration of the mechanics of a free society’s unwritten laws of checks and balances. Hence, the government and the media may not stand on the same side of the debate but let there be no quarrel over the fact that they seek in their own ways to see the established moral and temporal orders strengthened. It may also come about that the media is hijacked by vested interests, including excessive commercialization and commodification. At such times, it would be in the fitness of things for the media to also be reminded through institutionalized democratic channels where it has going astray. In Manipur’s scenario, where the media organisations are predominantly family businesses, it is often difficult to segregate owner interests from media duties. Partly because of poor revenue of the business, it is not at all uncommon to find editors, proprietors and other journalists using the influence and clout of their organisations to corner lucrative government contract works and favours. The image battering the media in general receives from such acts is imaginable, and it is a pity that even the All Manipur Working Journalist Union, AMWJU, would be powerless to do anything about it. In Manipur’s provincial reality, there is very little that employees can do to challenge their employers, and the very structure of the AMWJU has preordained such an unhappy equation. Even in very recent times, its decisions have been shot down unceremoniously, and the apex body of working journalists in the state has had but to swallow its pride in silent helplessness. This was saddening and a loss for all in the long run. But this is a matter of another debate, one which is urgently called for amongst the journalist fraternity.

What of the media’s relationship with the government. While the media’s role as the watchdog of the governance process is unambiguous, and must remain undiluted, what of the government’s attitude towards the media. Must it reciprocate and also treat the media as its adversary. We think not. The government must rise above itself. It must be prepared to engage the media in a manner befitting of the responsibility vested in it. It must not think in terms of co-option either. Instead it must encourage the media to be independent and assist it to become robust intellectually. It would be a kind of an enlightened self-interest on its part to actually go ahead and make and institution which is most of the time its adversary, stronger and fitter without depriving it of its autonomy. Towards this end, it must be acknowledged that the government has been organising an annual training programme for young media aspirants for the last two decades, although the programme went into a long hiatus and has only been revived a few years ago. Let it also know that many from the earlier classes are today young working journalists trying to cut a career in the profession. Things have changed considerably and there is today even a media department in the Manipur University. Despite this, the DIPR programme is different, for while the university course will not be teaching job skills, and would be oriented towards an academic outlook to journalism. It is therefore encouraging that the DIPR thought the programme worthy to be revived not only to train young aspirants but to provide refresher courses for those already in the profession. These classes would have young professionals already with basic groundings of journalistic skills, so the kind of training imparted will have to be a little different. As for instance, they can benefit tremendously from a closer understanding of how the government and its various institutions work – the methods and decorum of Assembly proceedings; the hierarchy of the judiciary and their powers; the various commissions; the making of the financial bill; the equation between the legislature, executive and judiciary etc.

The government must also do its bit to make the economy of the media viable. Rather that seek co-option through selective awards of favours and contract jobs to editors and owners, it must come out with a general policy on the matter, such as tax rebates, easy credit facilities and periodic revision of government advertisement rates, just as for instance the Central government does annually. Incidentally Manipur government’s system of rotational, automatic and equal distribution of advertisements to empanelled newspapers is far more foolproof to corruption by brokers than say the Central government’s Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity, DAVP, where underhand commissions and kickbacks to a great extent determine where the best advertisements land. After it has ensured revenue channels are adequate, it can also enforce minimum wage standards for journalists and other staff of the media business. The Central government has such standards, but these were fixed not with the provincial media in mind, so they remain unrealistic and out of bound of a majority of the media organizations in the entire northeast, and for that matter much of subaltern India. In the northeast, except for one newspaper in Assam, no other has ever adopted any of the wage board recommendations. We urge the government to look beyond the immediate and acknowledge that a healthy media is essential for the health of the society at large.

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