Assam journalists discuss corruption in media

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 28/06/2008
Speakers in the meeting were unanimous in asserting that Mukul could never be the only or the last tainted reporter, working in Assam for various media

It was grim news for the people of Assam, when one of state government’s  ministers was arrested by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials a  few weeks back in New Delhi on charges of offering a bribe to an officer (to get rid of a murder case).  But the more shocking news for journalists  was the involvement of a Guwahati based reporter in the episode. He was also picked up by the investigation agency.

The arrest of Mukul Pathak, a scribe associated with an Assamese daily, with the state¿s  then Education minister Ripun Bora (and  a Delhi-based businessman, Ramesh Maheswari), made headlines for many days in Assam as well as in national media.

The immediate reaction of the people in general and journalists in particular was that Mukul got nothing but his due. Meanwhile wild allegations were poured in against the young scribe.  A few journalists thought  that Mukul had destroyed the image of Assam media.

So there were discussions about the punishments that could be pronounced for Mukul, who is presently serving judicial custody at Tihar jail. If the CBI can arrest him for his involvement in episode of bribing one of its officers with Rs 10,lakh in cash, why should not  journalists¿ bodies condemn him and expel him from the community. There was little support for the view that Mukul should get a chance to clarify his stand. It was thought  that if Mukul was arrested by the CBI (which can never do wrong!), he must be a criminal. 

But a journalists¿ meeting at Guwahati Press Club on June 22 has changed the perception of the episode significantly. Organized by Journalists¿ Action Committee, Assam and the representative of National Federation of Newspaper Employees, the meeting insisted on providing space for Mukul to clarify his stand as well. Presided over by journalist Keshab Kalita, the meeting also decided to send a delegation of journalists to New Delhi with an aim to meet Mukul and pick up his point of view. The delegation is supposed to meet the concerned CBI officials too.

Various speakers in the meeting were unanimous in asserting that Mukul could never be ¿the only and the last tainted reporter¿, working in Assam for various media (as a section of senior journalists had  tried to establish with their comments during last few days), and hence they urged the editors to keep a vigil on working journalists of the respective media houses.

"If Mukul is proved to be involved in the episode, for which he was arrested by the CBI, the journalists¿ body would support appropriate actions against the reporter. He will also be expelled from the journalists¿ body," said in a resolution of  the meeting.

In another resolution, the meeting also demanded a basic minimum salary and other economic facilities for the working journalists of Assam. Speakers including Prakash Mahanta (a senior journalist and secretary of Journalists Action Committee, Assam), Sabita Lahkar  (editor of an Asamese monthly, Ajori), Mukul Kalita, Naresh Kalita, Pankaj Dutta (all are Guwahati-based scribes) expressed anger at the disappointing condition of the working journalists of Assam, where more than 60% of them were compelled to work without a proper appointment letter, salary structure, leave and other relevant facilities, recommended by various acts including the Indian Labour Act.

"This is very unfortunate that media persons in Assam have to work with a salary starting with even Rs. 2000 with absolutely no job security. Many times, the journalists (including the editors) are used by the proprietors of media groups for their business (other than media) interest. So in such a chaotic situation, we can hardly expect a fair journalism in the state," commented a Guwahati based senior citizen. He however added that it is not only the part of local journalists, who are engaged with some corrupt means, but a section of established journalists (of metro dailies and news agencies) with adequate financial security also indulge with such kind of activities.

His comment was supported by a city based scribe, Hiren Kalita arguing that there are many journalists, who take advantage in a different way (though not in cash). "Why are you making so much noise against the poor reporter (Mukul Pathak)? Do not you know that many so-called senior and responsible journalists are equally involved in corrupt means to earn money? I know that they do it in a more polished manner. So nobody bothers," he commented.

 Devashish Bhattacharjee, a city-based reporter raised the point, "Let¿s take an example. There are many Guwahati-based journalist cum documentary film makers (employed with professional media houses), who work for Prasar Bharati. There may be nothing wrong to produce documentaries for Doordarshan, but when you do it on issues related to the state forest department and take all advantages (from conveyance, to lodging in forest guest houses) during the shooting, is not it a corruption issue? You have already received (or will receive) the money from Prasar Bharati against all these expenditures, then why go for begging unethical support from the department? Will you be able to raise voice (to file news) against the forest department in future?"

He wanted to know whether  this was not the  real reason, why such journalists ignored the public resentment against the forest department of Assam in the last few months for its failure to protect the endangered one-horn rhinos in various national reserves. "These journalists remained silent while the conscientious people of Assam came to the streets demanding actions against the state forest minister for his negligence in duties, but they were quick to report when the minister or forest officials came out with some statements." Did not this amount to corruption too?

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