Axiomatic journalism

BY Pradip Phanjoubam| IN Media Practice | 10/07/2010
The classic story-telling strategy of the media is for the story teller to develop an axiom or hypothesis on what he would be reporting, and then collect information that suits the axiom.
PRADIP PHANJOUBAM editorialises that CNN-IBN used bits of an interview totally out of context to suit the narrator’s axiom of the Naga-Meitei divide.

                       Reprinted from the Imphal Free Press



One of the serious difficulties faced by the media reporting conflict is in deciding what exactly is objective reporting in representing developing, often emergent, situations. One easy way out has been to make the media an open space where all the conflicting parties can say whatever they want and then leave it up to the reading public, presumably intelligent and discerning, to judge for themselves where rationality ends and madness begins (or vice versa) in each of the points of views expressed. There is a problem here too, for the presumption of the readers’ (or audiences’) critical ability to identify not just what is represented in black and white in print, but also what may be broadly described as the third voice of poetry that TS Eliot talked of, is doubtful. The third voice here is taken to mean the unseen, imaginary, narrator who emerges from the dialectic between the poet and the reader, mediating and interpreting what the reader actually reads or hears. The ability to hear this voice brings the reader (or listener) to the position of the poet. It involves him (or her) in the creative process but at the same time, prevents a total emotional involvement by establishing a distance between him and the action. It is a two way process. Good poetry must hence invoke this third voice, much as the reader must also be sensitive enough to hear this voice. The poet and the listener in this sense become part of the same creative process.


We are talking of journalism and not poetry here, but all the same the dynamics are not altogether different. This is why we are often left despairing at the absence of any handle for this dialectic in both the media representation of conflict as well as in the readers’ appreciation of what appears in print. The issue however goes beyond this simple equation. This is so because unlike poetry, the medium as well as method of story-telling in the case of the modern media is far more complicated. It is also extremely divergent, especially so between the print and the TV. The classic story-telling strategy of the media is for the story teller to develop an axiom or hypothesis on what he would be reporting, and then collect information that suits the axiom. Often, and quite unethically, he would also resort to selectively quoting people he interviews, distorting in the process the context in which certain things were said, just so that his axiom can be developed. The print media in a way is safer for it is possible to have each speaker express their opinion in full, either in articles or else in the feedback columns in the form of letters to the editor correcting in the process some of the distortions which may have been deemed to have happened. A recent article by human rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar, which was reproduced in the IFP and the replies to it, was just an example of this.


This is not possible in the case of the TV. If certain facts or ideas have been misrepresented, there is no easy way this can be corrected. A recent story by CNN-IBN "Your Land, My Land" which so atrociously pitted the Nagas against the Meiteis and had them throw abuses at each other was one such case. The IFP editor and the writer of this editorial, unfortunately and unwittingly became part of it. What had appeared as an interview on the situation in the state was used in bits and totally out of context so as to suit the narrator’s axiom of the Naga-Meitei divide. One question in the interview pertained to whether there were anti-hill government policies (by implication by the Meitei government) to cause the undeniable reality of unequal development between the hills and valley. The answer was this was unlikely, for the Manipur Assembly is one third hill, therefore it would be impossible for it to pass any overtly anti-hill legislation. As for instance Assembly debate records (now available) show that among those who strongly pushed the ADC election decision were some of the Naga MLAs who resigned protesting the ADC election. The interviewer was also told that the disparity is more likely to be because of different attitudes to the modern system. Those who embrace the modern would reap better harvest from the modern system. Because of modern land revenue system in the valley, for instance, the average farmer in the valley would command much more investment liquidity, because his land can be mortgaged or even en-cashed if need be. This is not the case in the hills because of the insistence on the archaic notions of land ownership. This last bit of opinion was used and juxtaposed with an argument on hill-valley land friction the narrator was developing, falsely implicating the IFP editor as a participant in his debate. It is likely there would be others interviewed in the same story who felt used too. This objection was raised to the story teller and apology duly received, but there were advices from friends that since the perceived wrong was on a public platform it should not end as a private matter, therefore this editorial. Our readers can also expect articles on the same issue on media watchdog websites soon.


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