Is the Nagaland press free?

BY MORUNG EXPRESS NEWS| IN Media Freedom | 10/05/2016
“...Externalities like economic needs, political compulsion, socio-cultural and religious demands have narrowed press freedom in Nagaland”.


                              Reprinted from The Morung Express, May 6 2016


Along with an indifferent general public, there are several external and internal challenges to press freedom in Nagaland. This, a section of the press fraternity says, is hindering the healthy and vibrant progress of journalism in Nagaland.

They share critical reflections in the backdrop of World Press Freedom Day observed on May 3 – a day which, among other things, celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom around the world.


How free is the press in Nagaland?

“Broadly speaking externalities like economic needs, political compulsion, socio-cultural and religious demands have narrowed press freedom in Nagaland,” says Monalisa Changkija, Editor of Nagaland Page.

Asked whether these are outcomes of Nagaland’s “conflict” status, she notes, “It is obvious that the seeds of press freedom lie in this and so do the reasons for conflict. It’s like a tsunami effect.”

Changkija elaborates that while talking about conflict, one must necessarily ask why “ours is a conflict zone” but cautions against using it as a convenient excuse. Every society has conflict one way or other, she reasons.

Xavier Rutsa, a journalist with the Times of India says that despite all constraints and limitations, the media sector continues to grow. He, however, points to limitations and circumstances inhibiting the vibrancy of the press since it exists within a ‘tribalistic’ set-up.

An apologetic Vibi Yhokha of The Morung Express notes that while the press has been lacking in many issues and the public has “every right to be angry at us,” they are also at fault. “When I think of freedom of the press in Nagaland, I think of the support of the masses/people.  If we have failed our people, our people have failed us too,” she asserts.

H Chishi, a journalist with The Telegraph opines that there is little space to criticize and as an intricate society, nothing is black and white. Media is kept silent either through threats or defamation charges

“But things are positively changing over the years,” he maintains.


Investigative Journalism

Underlining the “lack” of investigative journalism in Nagaland, Chishi opines that, journalists in Nagaland are mostly paid “peanuts.” People don’t know the reality and whenever there are some stories, there is hardly any reaction from the public.

“These factors greatly contribute to journalists not taking enough risks to come out with investigative stories.”

People talk about lack of investigative journalism, but at the end of the day, in a small society like ours, there are certain constraints to investigate, Rutsa says, adding that often, sharing of information is limited and people are usually passive about stories.

Look at the recent CAG Report; actions were needed from the public but nobody came forward, he points out.

“In my three years of journalism in Nagaland, I have not witnessed the public taking action over the stories we have written. It is easy for people to compare, but here in Nagaland journalists are mired in insurgency, corrupt politics and bureaucracy, the military, and an indifferent public,” Yhokha further highlights.

When trouble breaks out for the press, even fewer defend. Politicians routinely slap defamation charges against newspapers, which are then left to fend for themselves. Recently, when there was an army directive to the media leading to blank editorials carried by three newspapers in the State, very few people of the State stood by the press.

“The people do not understand the limitations of working as a journalist in Nagaland – from our poorly paid salaries to the refusal of people to provide us the information and evidence we need to write the truth. The silence of the public has been most disappointing. For me personally, that’s the absence of hope especially for a journalist,” Yhokha elaborates.

While agreeing with the others, Changkija points out the inherent internal deficiencies which she describes as “technicalities” inhibiting investigative journalism.


How many trained journalists do we have here?

“It is a highly specialized area which an average journalist cannot deal with. We don’t even have journalists trained in the basics or for that matter, how many of our editors started as cub reporters? These are all inter-related matters for investigative journalism. These are the technical problems,” she notes.

As a result, she says, while the press lacks in-depth analysis of a subject, and follow-up stories, public also does not bother.


Challenges and concerns

For Changkija, a free press is not just from the government but society too. “We are products of the milieu. Instead of creating change, we follow. We do not provide leadership but mutely follow what is happening. We don’t create opinion but we give to people what they want.”

Changkija also expresses concerns over the practice of journalists receiving monetary benefits while reporting an event as “scandalous practice and against the ethos of the fourth estate.”

“The very act of accepting such benefits feeds the externalities. It undermines the profession and freedom of press gets a bad beating. You do not become a journalist to get rich; it needs conviction and dedication.”

For Rutsa, if a person is serious and really active in one’s profession, monetary consideration does not play a big role.

Likewise, Changkija stipulates that despite all the external constraints, if one has integrity, strength of character, courage of conviction, one will do what s/he is supposed to.

“Media in the State should now come out of plain reporting –‘he said this and that’—and we should start writing analytical and critical stories,” Chishi maintains, adding that media as a watchdog should not be a mouthpiece of any government.


A combined effort

For Yhokha, if the people refuse to speak, reveal, provide the truth, the press can never be set free.

As a journalist, I want the society to give us space to disseminate news freely, says Chishi. He also maintains that to have a vibrant democracy, media has to be anti-establishment sometime. We lack that in Nagaland State.

“We need money but we have shackled ourselves to economic needs. In the process, we compromise merit,” Changkija claims.

Talking about content like memoirs, felicitation and acknowledgment, Changkija said it is time we put integrity before economic needs.

At the end of the day, Changkija concludes, “Freedom of the press is an ideal. Something that we should never stop having and striving towards.” For this, “we must create our own ideals.”

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