Choosing pen over gun

BY A correspondent| IN Media Practice | 14/10/2009
FROM MILITANCY TO JOURNALISM, PART I. I have always felt more empowered with a pen than a gun, says Sunil Nath, former publicity secretary of the ULFA, and now a writer at large.
Interviewed by A CORRESPONDENT. Pix: Sunil Nath

Interview with Sunil Nath, former publicity secretary of the ULFA, who was considered one of the ideologues of the outfit during its heyday.

You have witnessed both conflict and now media from a close range. Do you think media in
Assam or in a conflict-torn region like Northeast India is able to function objectively?

SN: Unfortunately no. Both the State and the rebels try to influence and if possible coerce the media. Moreover, the sympathy among a section of the local media for the rebels, i.e. the"our boys" syndrome affects the objectivity and the neutrality of the media to a considerable extent.

Media was a rather late career option for you. Why did you choose this field?

SN: I was looking after the publicity side of the ULFA and naturally had interacted with the media closely. After coming out, it was more of an instinctive act than a well thought move. I tried my hand in business too but failed. Media was the only field where I felt comfortable and confident. It was a natural choice.

How do you see the media boom in the entire country and even in the Northeast? Do you think the quantity has eclipsed the quality in some way?

SN: I think the 'boom' is a very welcome phenomenon. The increase in the number of newspapers and channels has effectively eliminated the 'syndicate' among a handful of media barons. It has become a lot harder for some individual 'media baron' to influence and manipulate public opinion for their own interest. The grip of some newspapers during the pre-boom days has proved unhealthy in

I don't think the increased quantity has necessarily affected quality. On the other hand, fresh talents have emerged. Increase competition has effectively resulted in increased efficacy.

How would you react to the killing of mediapersons which take place time and again in the region?

SN: These killings should be severely dealt with and the Government should be made to take prompt and effective action against the culprits. The media persons, however, should also remember that 'journalism' and 'activism' are two different spheres of activity. A journalist should remain objective and neutral. He is free to express his personal opinions through his writings but his reporting of events has to remain objective.

5. Do you agree militant groups attack the freedom of the press from time to time?

SN: I don't think anybody can disagree with that.

 Do you think the mainstream media gives its due to the Northeast/Assam?

Ans: I beg to differ over the use of the term- 'mainstream'. I don't agree that 'Northeast /
Assam' is 'side-stream'. Regarding 'due', I think we have to understand that this region is neither the political nor the economic hub of the country. Being peripherally situated, naturally it gets less focus than other parts. It is a natural phenomenon. Remote parts of Assam/ NE gets less focus/ coverage in the local media centered in Guwahati. N.C. Hills gets less coverage than Guwahati. Though unfortunate, it happens everywhere and at every level.

Do you agree that some media houses act as mouthpieces of insurgent groups?

SN: Yes and I find it very disgusting. I think I owe some explanation here. The media houses, posing as supporters of the rebels, do so, not because of their love for the rebel cause but because their projected image as anti- establishment gets them better circulation. Sensational and irresponsible reporting makes them 'popular' while they go on dishing out distorted news and half-truths. It is indeed a very sad state of affairs.

Of late, even ULFA chief Paresh Baruah has started writing articles in local dailies. Is this a way to reach out to the masses or do you think there is a hidden agenda in it?

Ans: This is question for him to answer. I may not agree with what he has to say but I will always support his unconditional right to express his views through his articles.

When you were in the outfit, were you given training on how to handle the media? Was media an important component of your training?

SN: We were the beginners and there was none to train us. Later on we did try to prepare the boys working in the publicity wing.

Why did you join the ULFA? And why did you decide to leave? Were you disillusioned?

Ans: At a point in time we felt
Assam needs to be a sovereign entity to solve its socio-political problems. I decided to leave when I felt that sovereignty has lost its earlier importance in the context of the emergence of the 'global village'. Yes, I was disillusioned with our leadership. I am sorry, the answers have been very short but I would need quite a number of pages to explain fully.

What were your main source of news when you were in ULFA? How many newspapers did you scan? Was radio also a source of news?

SN: All newspapers published from
Assam and some important ones from the rest of India and abroad. Radio was a very handy source, specially in the remote areas.

Do you think the pen is mightier than the sword? In a sense, did media in a way empower you more than the gun did at a point of time?

SN: I believe both the pen and the sword have their own importance and relevance. I have always felt more empowered with a pen than a gun.

Do you see a difference in the role you played as the publicity secretary of ULFA and now an independent mediaperson?

SN: Yes, as the spokesman for ULFA, I spoke for the organization, espousing the official line, irrespective of my personal opinion. It was very frustrating sometime. As an independent media person, I can now freely air my own opinions. Now, I can say and write what I really believe in.

Do you think you have been able to contribute to society better through journalism? What are your main achievements in this field?

SN: I do think so. I have focused more on the social problems through my regular columns in various newspapers. I have tried to challenge some well circulated 'myths' regarding socio-political problems afflicting Assam and I believe I have been successful, at least to an extent, in inducing fresh thoughts.

Is it easy to be objective while writing about ULFA now as a mediaperson?

SN: I have no problem. On the contrary my past association helps in understanding their actions.



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