North East governments not media-savvy

IN Media Practice | 18/03/2005
In a region that has some 30 rebel groups with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination, journalists are sometimes at the receiving end.




Indo-Asian News Service


The government public relations machinery in the insurgency-hit northeast has come in for flak from journalists, who say it is often not geared up to deal with critical events like rebel attacks and bomb blasts.

"If there is a blast or an attack by militants, it is always very difficult to get authentic information as the police and civil administration have no proper mechanism," said Sushanta Talukdar, a senior journalist for The Hindu newspaper based here.

Lack of a proper government system for disseminating information has on several occasions led to distortion of facts.

"We as journalists need to work on deadlines. But then we don`t have someone in the police to give us a wrap of the total number of blasts or casualties," said Rahul Karmakar of The Hindustan Times.

"You invariably find the casualty figures of a particular incident varying if you compare the next day`s newspapers. Had there been a professional approach from the government, it could have avoided distortion of facts."

On the other hand, the publicity cells of militant groups in the northeast have become increasingly media savvy.

"The moment there are blasts or attacks, some underground groups quickly send an e-mail or fax or even call up newspaper offices to claim responsibility. So it is the rebels who are getting the mileage in most cases," said Wasbir Hussain, consulting editor of The Sentinel, an English daily published from Guwahati.

"If you try to speak to senior police officials after an incident, one gets a stereotyped answer from the office that `Sir or Madam is busy in a meeting` and so cannot receive the call."

In a region that is home to some 30 rebel groups with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination, journalists are sometimes at the receiving end.

"On many occasions we find the government reacting rather harshly after news based on rebel statements is published. But they do not realise that the government machinery has failed to do what the militants were able to achieve," said Atanu Bhuyan, editor of Asomiya Khabar, an Assamese daily from Guwahati.

"In a conflict region, the government information departments should play a proactive role to have an edge over militants if they are to win in this propaganda war."

The same is the case with most North Eastern states hit by militancy.

"It is imperative for the government machinery to show some professionalism in sharing information related to conflicts if they are to score a point over the militants," said Shekhar Datta, a journalist with The Telegraph newspaper based in Tripura`s capital Agartala.

State governments in the North East maintain they have plans to neutralise the militants` propaganda campaigns.

"From time to time we do give out press handouts enlisting the success of the government in anti-insurgency operations. But we need to strengthen our publicity departments for effective results," a senior
Assam government official said, requesting anonymity.

Indo-Asian News Service

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