Media must revisit north-east

BY UGEN BHUTIA| IN Media Practice | 11/09/2012
Even after 65 years of Independence the national media has been consistently lukewarm towards north-east India.
The media should help build and sustain “positive peace”, says UGEN BHUTIA.
Nearly a month ago, India celebrated its 65 years of Independence. Each year we celebrate our freedom and democracy with the pride of past achievements and new enthusiasm for future possibilities. But, this year, August 15 came with doubts on our proclamation of being democratic rather than the jingoism that always prevailed in our minds. Prior to Independence Day, Kokrajhar showed how democratic we are. And in the process, it also highlighted the callous attitude of the national media towards north-east India.
The Kokrajhar violence was caused by the sense of insecurity that has prevailed in the minds of Bangladeshi immigrants and the Bodos for a long time. But the unfortunate part of it is that the media (particularly the so-called national media), which are considered as the pillar of Indian democracy, have their share in it.
One of the basic principles of democracy is the integration of different communities, cultures, identities, etc. It becomes more significant in a nation such as ours where diversity is not merely on the basis of cultures and identities but on geographical differences too. These differences, when not addressed earnestly, turn violent as they did in Kokrajhar. Indeed, the violence revealed the inability of the state in peace-building and peace-keeping. It also revealed the disdain of the media in initiating such measures.
Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist and the principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies, has presented two aspects of the term “peace” where “negative peace” is the mere absence of war and violence, whereas “positive peace” exists when there is absence of war and violence together with constitutional freedom and rights for the people concerned. Here, one can argue that a democratic nation and its media should always strive for building and sustaining “positive peace”. However, it may be fruitless to hope that political leaders and governments would strive for integration of different identities in the era of identity politics. Therefore, the role of media becomes important. It should not only question the leaders and the governments for their lack of interest in integration but also can initiate such integration on its own.
The national media has done little to address the issue of immigration in Assam and other north-east States. All they have done is to report a few events where/when a large number of people die or displaced. Thanks to our national media, the death of a film actor becomes national news but the ongoing conflict in the north-east never reaches the national level. The national media’s indifference towards the north-east is not new.
The north-eastern part of the country is getting negligible space and time in national newspapers and on television channels. The reason for such an attitude can be found in the book, “Manufacturing Consent” by Herman and Noam Chomsky in which it has been described how “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print’’. North-east India is a part of the country where there are at least 200 ethnic minority groups. These groups have nothing to do with the commodities produced by multinational corporates which advertise in such media. Naturally, these ethnic groups are of little significance to our national media. It’s only when there is a huge chaos in the north-east that the media give their minute focus to the region. For instance, the September 18 earthquake last year in which more than 75 people lost their lives in Sikkim last year suddenly attracted the attention of a large number of newspapers and television channels. No channel or newspaper stayed behind; all they wanted was to be “first with the news”. But when things settled, all OB (outside broadcasting) vans returned to where they came from.
This year, on July 20, after violence broke out in Kokrajhar, rumours spread in places such as Bangalore and other parts of the country about impending attacks on the students there from north-east. The rumour-mongers were perhaps taking revenge for the Kokrajhar incident but they failed to realise that north-east India comprises seven States together with Assam. More importantly, they failed to realise that Kokrajhar was just one district in Assam and not all of the Assamese could be blamed for the incident. Such a stereotyping and lack of knowledge about our fellow countrymen are caused by some part of the profit-centric media which continues to show the Nepalese as a gatekeeper, the Bihari as a dacoit, and the Muslims as fundamentalists.
The media cannot afford to have such an attitude towards the north-east or any other part of the country if they want to sustain peace among the people. They should strive to represent every section of society and help remove stereotyping of one another and encourage people to educate themselves about their fellow countrymen.


(The writer is an MPhil/PhD scholar in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sikkim University.)

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