Media’s fine line walk

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This must have to be another fine line that people in the profession of journalism have to walk. They are called upon to jump on to issues and doggedly pursue them, and yet, the danger is of this effort influencing the course of justice dispensation, most of the time for the good, but sometimes, even if inadvertently, for the bad. There have been plenty of examples for this, in the state as well as outside. The recent JNU crisis over what was controversially termed as seditious slogan shouting by some students and the role the media played is just one example of this. When the law is lethargic in swinging into action when it should, the media can act as the vital prod to get it to wake up, but often it is the media, in their mad race to be one up in the competition, who overshoot the due process of law and legitimate enforcement of it. The conscientious who have made the media their profession will know how delicate this balance is, and how difficult it is to walk this fine line sometime. Compounding this dilemma is the arrival of the social media, and with it the explosion of what has been described as citizen journalists. Anybody with a smartphone, and this practically mean everybody today as prices of smartphones are no longer out of reach of even those with very ordinary means, is a potential photographer and citizen journalist. They can now reach out to hundreds and thousands, and even millions if the news they upload comes to trend on the world wide web and gets shared and relayed across more and more networks of “friends” and “followers”. This has empowered the ordinary citizen like never before but there are also dangers. Micro blogging sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can and have indeed become sites for spread of rumours, unsubstantiated allegations and propagandas, sometimes very dangerous and unfair ones, with immense potential of causing undeserved hurts to others.

In a way, this is also the reason why the traditional media, in particular the print media, despite its many disadvantages by virtue of it technically not being able to keep up with the pace of their electronic counterparts, and the definitely not of the new age media of the internet, still are holding fort to the surprise of pundits who have been predicting their inevitable demise and so writing their obituaries for quite some years now. Slow though the medium is, it is the one which has been the moderating factor in the insane rush of the new media world. A news report appearing today for instance said contrary to popular predictions, print media circulation figures have actually risen in the last one year and conservative papers like The Hindu are prominent in this rise. But despite this, the dilemma of not knowing how to distinguish the authentic from the fake amongst the deluge of information that circulate on social media sites each day even while they prepare to bring out the next day’s newspaper, is unlikely to go away so soon. Turning a blind eye to them can amount to muting important voices, but regarding them as absolutely reliable too can often harm people and their reputation in unwarranted manners. This is a daily dilemma. Today for instance, there was a picture uploaded on Facebook implicating the leader of the JCILPS movement of ties with a banned organisation. Would it have been correct for the traditional media to also simply reproduce and share, as so many would and indeed have done on the unregulated and largely amoral social media? On the other hand, would it be correct to ignore information of such gravity too, although this seems to be the fairest option until the matter is conclusively authenticated?

Again, at least on such matters, it must be the government which swings into action promptly. It is unlikely the police with its wide intelligence and resource, would not have come to be aware of these chatters on the internet, and it is they who must respond and authenticate or dismiss, not in the interest of helping out the media decide on these issues, but so that no damages are caused unnecessarily by spread of rumours and suspicions amongst the different sections of the people. No point elaborating that such an exercise is even more essential in a place like Manipur, so badly fractured along ethnic lines, and therefore the virtue of any unnecessary trouble being nipped in their buds. Indeed, it would not be totally unrelated to add that much of the menace of mob justice that the state has become accustomed to, is also a result of the government’s delay in taking firm action and ensuring rule of law promptly whenever and wherever incidents that may lead to breach of public order has occurred. We expect such action now from the government on the matter of the photograph now trending on social media sites so all public doubts are put to rest, and no further frictions result.

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