Booming media, exploited journalists in Assam

IN Regional Media | 02/08/2004
Newspaper editions are multiplying across the state but more than 60 per cent newspaper employees in Assam are deprived of basic minimum facilities.


Nava Thakuria


After graduating in engineering a young man went for a job to a Guwahati-based newspaper, primarily to kill time till he could find work in his field. Though reluctant, the daily’s editor permitted the enthusiast young man to join. As the young engineer started working for the Assamese daily, he found more and more exciting possibilities to explore through the print media. Soon he realized that print media in Assam had emerged as an honourable profession and also one of the major avenues for hundred educated Assamese youths. He also realized that he was not alone in switching to a profession that used to be meant for Arts-educated intellectuals earlier. Currently the profession provides space for many technical graduates including those from engineering, agriculture, veterinary, geology and other science streams.


The state capital Guwahati witnesses the publication of 20 dailies; half of them in the Assamese language. Seven of these are  published from more than one centre,  whereas three Assamese dailies claim to enjoy over 1,00,000 circulation. The print media has created 8,000 direct jobs, and provides indirect employment to 20,000 throughout the state with a population of 26 million. There are 400 working journalists in Guwahati.


Christian Missionaries initiated journalism in Assam in 1845 with the launch of ‘Arunodoi’. Till 1979, the print media in Assam was merely another facet of social work. Two pioneers of Assam, namely RG Barua and Deveswar Sharma, published the  dailies  Assam Tribune’, Dainik  Asom’ and ‘Dainik Janambhumi’ till the seventies.  The historic Assam agitation in 1980s’ changed the social life and living of the Assamese community, which resulted in many new values confronting the people of Assam. Amidst all the turmoil and social chaos, the local media witnessed a rapid boom in Nineties.


Launched in 1997, The Assamese daily from GL Publications ‘Amar Asom’ has the credit of being published simultaneously from two locations for the first time in NE India. Started from Guwahati, the management of the daily soon paved way for another edition from Jorhat, in upper Assam. The idea of edition was quickly adopted by the proprietor of ‘Asomiya Pratidin’, another influential Assamese daily.  Started from Guwahati, the daily later extended its network to Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur  in upper Assam and Bongaigaon in lower Assam.


‘Asomiya Pratidin’ presently enjoys the  highest of circulation  among the other dailies. Meanwhile the Jorhat-based Assamese daily ‘Dainik Janambhumi’, which has highest number of  circulation in upper Assam had started its Guwahati edition to cater the need of the readers from lower Assam. In the meantime, a Silchar (in southern Assam) based Bengali daily ‘Dainik Jugasankha’ had began a Guwahati edition too. 


The trend was quickly picked up by three Assamese dailies. The popular daily ‘Dainik Agradoot’ soon started its edition in Jorhat, where as ‘Aji’ made introduced another edition from Sibsagar and ‘Dainik Janasadharan’ from Jorhat. Now it is the turn of ‘Asomiya Khabar’, another widely circulated Assamese daily to start its Jorhat edition within a few days. Similarly, the management of  ‘Natun Dainik’ has planned to bring out  a Dibrugarh edition. The  Kolkata based English daily ‘The Telegraph’ has also made inroads with its Guwahati edition.


Though the print media boom is spectacular, there are people, who are apprehensive about the outcome. "We are witnessing the boom since early Nineties, but quality journalism remains elusive in our region. I agree the local media is facing a tough challenge from both national newspapers as well as the electronic media. But still there is room for regional newspapers to play a constructive role in socio-economic growth in this part of India.  Unfortunately the exisiting dailies have failed to make any mark in this respect," says  Prakash Mahanta, the general secretary of Journalists Union of Assam, affiliated to the Indian Journalist’s Union. 


However Sabita Lahkar, a Guwahati-based journalist makes a different point, "Journalists here have to work under tremendous pressure from the managements. As we do not have different beats in reporting, journalists have to cover all the important issues including political, economical, social, and cultural.  So it is quite impossible for a journalist to juggle so many assignments." 


The ongoing insurgency and unrest among the youth of this region have put tremendous challenges to the working journalists based in NE India. They are subjected to numerous threats from  insurgents, surrendered militants and even the anti-insurgent security personnel time to time. The statistics reveal that the trouble torn region has lost over 20 dedicated journalists in last two decades. After the mounting pressure, threats and challenges from various quarters,  journalists in particular and newspaper employees in general are denied proper wages and facilities from the managements.


"You can find more than 60 % newspaper employees in Assam  are deprived of basic minimum facilities such as appointment letter, leave, provident fund, ESI etc. They are emotionally exploited by the management and subjected to no job security. There is no other way than fighting for our dues as recommended by the statutory wage board,"  says Chandreswar Sharma, the general secretary of Assam Tribune Employees Union, which is the oldest media trade union of the region. It also has a successful track record of attaining the facilities recommended by the latest  Manisana Singh Wage Board.



The author is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati. Contact:
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