Editorial – To Refresh Journalism

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This editorial is prompted by reprimands from readers and well wishers who pointed out the insensitivity shown by the IFP in publishing the vividly clear picture of a raped and murdered girl some days ago on its front page. We do apologise for the serious slip, and hope not to repeat the mistake again. Our excuse is the usual. In the late evening rush hours of newspaper production, sometimes it is difficult to keep out the printer’s devil from playing havoc. Everybody who has had a formal academic course in journalism would have been told of this in their classes and also shown glaring bloomers even in very reputed newspapers in the past. But as we said this is only an excuse of a mistake we have made but not by any means an indicator we will continue to be lax in guarding against such insensitivities slipping past our news and image vetting procedures. This brings to the fore one other concern. As in academics, journalists too need to be put through occasional refresher courses in new developments in the professions as well as standards of general ethics which undoubtedly have a profound bearing on the discharge of their duty. After all, although in a different way, much of the terms of conduct of this profession too are cerebral in nature.

The Department of Information and Public Relations, DIPR, government of Manipur has a fortnight long certificate journalism training course each year with the objective of grooming young men and women on the threshold of choosing a career to develop an interest in the profession by getting them to have a glimpse of its inner dynamics. Senior journalists in the state are the resource persons for these annual events and the trainees are taught the classical definitions as well as practical problems of the profession. While this is a good effort, the point to be noted is, not many of those who undergo these courses ever join the profession. At the local level, the working conditions of the profession cannot match government jobs, so the brighter ones normally opt for the latter. Indeed many of them enlist in the DIPR courses for the certificate in the hope this would enhance their chances of getting into “any government job”, even a grade three or four one. The quality of education in the state being such, not many of them would also be able to match their competitors from many other states for journalistic jobs in the open market in better paying environs of other Indian metropolises.

This being the scenario, we would like to suggest that it would be much more profitable for the DIPR course to be converted to a refresher course for working journalists. The lectures then would not necessarily have be about news gathering or newspaper production, but can have a much larger parameter. As for instance, the course could orient itself towards issues like gender sensitivity, child rights, human rights, law, or for that matter grassroots welfare programmes of the State as well as Central governments, all of which the profession has to deal with, and all of which undoubtedly would have a strong bearing on the quality as well as efficacy of journalism in the state. The government could also tie up with the Manipur University, which already has a journalism department, and conduct such refresher courses periodically. Such an arrangement would be ideal, for the resource persons, not just in journalism but also in the other subjects of relevance to the profession would be readily available. Besides the government, we wonder if it would not be possible for some of the well-funded NGOs to hold lesser versions of the courses by way of workshops and media seminars. While there is a profusion of NGOs in the state working in the areas of HIV/AIDS, environment, gender issues, conflict resolution, we wonder what is keeping a sound media NGO from materialising here. Nobody will doubt how important the media in a situation such as Manipur’s, and in fact, the media’s relevance is also profound in the success of the campaigns by NGOs working in the above named fields. So these media refresher courses could become part of their overall programmes. How for instance could an average reporter know the nuanced issues involved in HIV/AIDS, environment or gender reporting? What is not understood is, few if any journalists in any newspaper in the state, and indeed in most media organisations anywhere, get to specialise in any particular field and thus they all tend to be generalists. The pitfall of this predicament is what the IFP is also having to apologise in this editorial.

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