Does the Nation Really Want to Know?
NEW DELHI: A few weeks ago most of Assam was neck-deep in one of the worst ever floods it has witnessed with the number. of affected people soaring beyond 15,70,571 and the number. of relief camps exceeding 332 -- housing a total of around 12,27,786 inmates! However, as horrifying images of animals and human beings from Assam -- stuck in the debris and unhygienic surroundings were getting avidly circulated on several social media platforms, the national media, barring a few exceptions, appeared to be in deep slumber, showing total apathy to the grave situation. Instead, it was busy in highlighting the waterlogging in the millennium city Gurugram (the erstwhile Gurgaon)!
Had a calamity of such a scale occurred in Mumbai or Uttarakhand, in no time the Television cameras would have reached ground zero and termed it a national disaster! But as this time, the particular incident was from India's “forever Cinderella” -- the North-East, apparently the lives of people of Assam mattered less as compared to those of Jammu and Kashmir! That's why the people of the North-East were not even surprised when the successful organization of the South Asian Games, 2016 ( including its opening ceremony graced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi) in Meghalaya and Assam, was completely blacked out by the national TV channels and the catastrophic impact of the earthquake which shook Manipur at the beginning of this year was given abysmal coverage!
In this age of globalization, when our cell-phone screens start beaming with notifications, within seconds of the occurrence of any event in any part of the world , isn't it a bit absurd that the news from India's North- East finds least room in the news desks of national media? Isn't it the “step-motherly” attitude of the so-called mainland India towards North-East, which fuels such discrimination?
Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has described this phenomenon with the phrase “tyranny of distance.” This echoes a somewhat similar view to what Shashi Tharoor once told us personally, “Our media is excessively Delhi-centric and the farther you are, the less coverage you get!” According to a different view, presence of very few TRP boxes in North-East -- the number of which hardly exceeds 30, is another prime reason why the corporate owned media houses find it difficult to give due coverage to the news of the North-East.
Moreover, it should be kept in mind that apparently for the pan-Indian audience, the news of some activities of the Delhi CM invites more attention than the news of a certain Irom Sharmila who had been fasting for the last 16 years in “distant” Manipur (Sharmila broke her fast recently)!
A huge number of people associated with these media houses candidly say that poor connectivity in North-East and unavailability of speedy Internet service in several areas make it difficult for journalists to report the events adequately! It's often seen that while most media houses keep only one or two reporters in Guwahati (the capital city of Assam) for the entire North-East, the major newspapers leave no stone unturned to somehow club all the news of the North-East in a single page of their Kolkata edition. Let alone bringing out a specific edition for the region!
Senior anchor of India Today,. Karan Thapar, while talking to us, expressed optimism citing several examples of how the national media has started to give due importance to the North-East. He, however, stressed that the people of the North-East must convey this issue assertively to as many editors as possible for prospective course correction. But questions remain regarding the fact that the level of engagement the journalists show while reporting a mundane bank robbery in Ghaziabad or some controversial statement of a political leader, that same level of engagement and genuine concern is nowhere to be found while reporting similar news from the North East.
Why is it so that despite the presence of journalists from the North-East in the top most posts of national news channels, the region has to beg perpetually for getting a mere 5-minute news slot?
It's not that we don't have any solution. Many people of the region as well as reporters from the national media houses are consistently trying to solve this problem of “lack of representation”. The local news channels of the region must play a pro-active role in ensuring that the incidents they cover reach the national media houses in time as in most cases the national media houses borrow footage from local channels. The tie up between Times Now and the Assamese satellite news channel News Live is noteworthy in this regard. Moreover if the filmmakers of North-East or the rest of India start making short films on the unexplored positive issues of North-East and take the initiative of telecasting them om news channels, then definitely the stereotypes and misconceptions that the Hindi Heartland has regarding North-East might gradually wither away.
The politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and business houses of the region must help the groups concerned in this regard. To add to it, one should not forget the power of social media. At a time when the idea of citizen journalism is gaining momentum, with just his smart phone or tablet, one could spread any important news to a larger group with all possibilities of creating the desired impact. In no way the “hashtag” influenced media houses would be able to debar news from the North-East if the issue trends on Twitter!
But in this whole process, the role of the youth will be highly important. From Asia's cleanest village Mawlynnong in Meghalaya to the Logtak lake in Manipur or the Forest Man from Assam Jadav Payeng to the literacy rate of Tripura -- all the interesting information about the North-East has to be prepared in written format and spread across India. In the process, the various North Eastern students living in different places of India must play a proactive role in bridging the gap. The local channels of North-East too must to focus on quality news instead of solely fixing their stereotypical cameras on drunk girls, neighborhood skirmishes and cheap talk.
In the world of fiction too, the North-East oriented novels and translation works in Hindi and English must to occupy a preeminent room without ado so that the stories of happiness and despair from the North-East touch the nerves of those same Indians who empathize with the protagonists of Chetan Bhagat's ‘Two States.’ Writers from North-East like Aruni Kashyap, Ankush Saikia, Uddipana Goswami are some important names to reckon with in this regard.
In the realm of culture too, it's appreciable that media has started to highlight the North-East and the limelight received by singer Papon is the best example in this regard. The more the youth of the region interact with the Indians from other states, the chances of North-East gaining due importance grow. North-East festivals organized in different cities of India throughout the year should focus on attracting more and more non-North-Easterners rather than confining it to the people of the region.
In the currently concluded Assam Legislative Assembly Election, the national media for the first time covered any election of the North-East with great intensity and for whatsoever reason, a trend of extensively reporting and analyzing the activities of the new government has been observed of late which probably could herald a new dawn vis-a-vis national media's reportage on North-East. The Arunachal Pradesh fiasco has proven this change of attitude on the part of the national media of late.
It is important to understand that it was only during the Assam Agitation that the national media bothered to throw light on the North-East after a long period of lull since the 1962 Indo-China war. In fact, even when the Indian Air Force bombed Mizoram in 1966 to wipe out insurgents -- the only instance when the government of India bombed one of its own states -- the then national newspapers did not pay any importance to it.
The scenario has improved to a great extent now. But what's important is the genuine concern which media houses need to show towards the North-East to address this issue wholeheartedly. On the part of the people of the North-East, they have to try their best so that their stories reach the pan-Indian audiences with great impact-potential attached to them and the integration of North-East with the rest of India reaches new heights.
(The writer is currently studying Political Science (Honours) at Hindu College, Delhi University)