Work is Worship

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I am delighted to see IFP complete 17 years of publication, having lived through bad times and good times, as all living institution would and should. As a newspaper run by professional journalists with little or no special business skill or interest, it has had its share of hard times, but the love of the profession has kept it vibrant and alive in all these years. Though at this moment, I am far away from base, I join our staff, associates and well wishers, in wishing the newspaper many many more years of telling grand stories of successes and tragedies, of the times of Manipur, Northeast, India and indeed the whole world. But as legendary minstrel, Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a changing” and changing fast too. Once upon a not so distant past, everywhere in India, journalists ruled journalism, and for pioneers of Indian journalism like Tilak and Gandhi, journalism was a mission. This legacy being what it was, in the early days of Independent India, till as late as the 1980s, towering editors were the hallmark of Indian journalism. Those were the days when the identities of newspapers had umbilical associations with the journalistic identities of their editors. Today, newspapers have transformed for better or worse, and they are more businesses than the mission the pioneers dreamed they would remain. The statures of editors have also reciprocally shrunk. It is more than likely, not many newspaper readers today would be able to name the editors of even major national dailies. This would have been unthinkable even the mid 1980s, when people of my generation stepped into the career.

Not only this, there are other transformations sweeping the industry on a global scale. The arrival of television made it essential for newspapers to go for a more pictorial look that most newspapers sport today, so as not to lose readership, but more importantly the advertisement market. More than the television, it is the arrival of the internet which has made it vital for newspapers to reinvent themselves. The most radical of these transformations is the recent discontinuance of the print edition of the popular American weekly, “Newsweek”, which has been in publication since 1933, to become a daily web journal under a different name, “The Daily Beast”. More reputed newspapers and journals, including the respected, and one of the most well circulated newspapers in the world, “The Guardian”, London are toying with the idea of such a switch. It is still inconceivable this scenario would arrive in India just as yet, for running costs of newspapers are still a fraction of what it is in many of these advanced Western countries, largely on account of comparatively low wages of both journalist and non-journalist staff here. These tectonic shifts in the profession are even more unlikely to impact Manipur immediately, but they will no doubt come one day or the other before we realize it. The challenge is to be aware and be prepared. However, though these changes have not been as radical in Manipur, there is no gainsaying that in its own way there have been dramatic transformations and shifts of newspapers here from its primary role of being tellers of “news, views and interviews” to what has often been described as the new medium for “infotainment”.

The moot question is, should there be a limit beyond which such transformation is deemed undesirable and resisted. There is an expanding school of thought which thinks this should be so, and that news should remain sacred and not be allowed to reduce to just the “stuff to fill the spaces between advertisement”. This is important for the world has seen the ills of what the business takeover of news can mean even in the “liberal” West. As Tony Harcup pointed out in “Principles and Practice of Journalism”, all of the 170 and odd newspapers, journals and TV channels that media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns, ended up supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2002. Could more than 170 independent editors have had a single opinion on such a vital policy? The answer is obvious. Interviews with journalists from these newspapers also revealed that they never were instructed to follow any particular line, but unsaid though it may be, all of them knew the lines they were expected not to cross. The control of business over news in this new world is not always overt, but nonetheless powerful. My prayer on IFP`s auspicious day is for the newspaper to always have the courage and means to remain committed to the profession, and though prepared for changes the times bring and command, not to be swung to the extent the sanctity of news and information are compromised in any demeaning ways on the altar of business. Since IFP pledges faith in the timeless teaching that “work is worship”, my prayer is for it to always have the strength of conviction not to end up with false worships ever. Achumbana Yaiphare.

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