The media had never been neutral, and probably it is not possible to be perfectly neutral. Most importantly, being neutral is also a matter of perception. No media would like to accept their report as biased. The stories of Burma Railway or Death Railway may not be more popular in Japanese media because they are mostly about the inhuman torture meted out on the prisoners of war by the Japanese. On the other hand, media in the rest of the world project the stories as not less horrific than those of the Holocaust. As the adage goes “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, media versions of same incident or issue vary from place to place. The readers are always deprived of the ‘true’ picture. With internet bringing to a single platform all kinds of information, readers have to be more careful in making any assessment about the reported incidents, issues. They have to be smart minds to judge between filtered and non-filtered, genuine and motivated or real and distorted information.
It is a little difficult for the media to be completely neutral when the news concerns their own area of operation. But, the recent report about ‘exodus’ of Assamese (people from Assam?) from Shillong was either deliberate distortion of facts or pathetic ignorance about ABCD of journalism. News channels were running ‘breaking news’ claiming hundreds of Assamese fleeing the capital of Meghalaya whereas most of the interviewed victims could hardly speak their ‘native’ language. They were speaking in Hindi compelling one reporter to put his questions too in Hindi despite the latter’s visible struggle with the national language. Although a patient hearing of the versions of the so-called victims would make anyone understand that the incident was related to workers of a particular institution, the newsmen concerned hardly stressed on the matter. Their attempt to make the incident a general and racial problem was too explicit. One channel even had the audacity to run a comment ‘how long will the Assamese endure such torture’ (with reference to the recent border clashes with Nagaland). As if the channel now wants the Assemese to retaliate against the ‘others’. Is it the role of a media?
The news channels of Assam that day fulfilled their basic objective – to raise the television rating points (TRPs). They could ‘successfully’ instill fears in the minds of hundreds of Assamese people living in Shillong. Some panicked residents called up Shillong media late night wondering if they were safe in the Scotland of East. Readers and viewers, beware – there are vices in media too, you have to make your own judgement.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 4, 2014)