The standard of self regulation of media is very poor in the Northeast. The public gets wrong messages due to this loophole in the media. However, this weakness should not be understood as a nexus of the media with groups getting ‘undue’ publicity. Unfortunately, the authorities concerned failed to understand the pangs of media in the region. And in such times come orders like the recent one in Nagaland where the Assam Rifles asked the government to prevent reporting on the demands of militant outfits. The media is obviously outraged prompting as many as five leading newspapers to run blank editorials. Another leading daily published its editorial protesting the move by the Assam Rifles. It said the para-military force should do its ‘own’ job properly and not try to govern the state. The Assam Rifles letter, on the other hand, may not have been written without any reason. Media reports publishing the versions of militant outfits often create hurdles for security forces in going after the former, who resort to the media to create public sympathy for them. We have seen it during the live coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks by television channels.
Most of the media in the Northeast give equal space to activities of militant outfits as well as security forces. Now the question is whether the media is giving undue space to some messages of the outlawed outfits that might mislead the public. Are such media reports helping in spreading of the propaganda of the outfits? Being outlawed outfits, they do not maintain any restraint in issuing statements to the media. If the same statement is published, surely there are worries for security agencies, who are ultimately responsible for safety of the people. On the other hand, the security agencies being responsible organisations do not put anything in writing without judging its consequence. So, there is a serious need of self-regulation by the media, especially in the Northeast where many anti-national elements are in operation. But the media is not entirely to blame for this imbalance in reporting.
There are a number of factors responsible for imbalanced reporting in the region. Media professionals are very poorly paid due to which it is difficult to get quality manpower, which ultimately poses hurdle in striking a balance in reporting. There are issues of threat to lives of media personnel, a fact no government agency can deny. Attempts like the Assam Rifles’ to regulate media will never bring any positive result. Let the media be given time and space to grow and attain maturity so that it becomes fully self-regulated in due course of time.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 20, 2015)