Media and Assam: a critical analysis

July 1, 2013 Off By Fried Guest

– By Prashant Mahanta

A few days back I attended the Thumb Print magazine’s conversation on ‘Media and the North-East India’. It was indeed a very enriching experience to be part of a gathering which accommodated many renowned personalities of Tezpur including Mrs. Teresa Rahman, a veteran journalist and also the chief editor of the aforesaid online magazine. The meeting was intended towards discussing the role of media in the north-eastern part of our country and it was largely successful in bringing into the limelight a number of issues which have hitherto been deprived of adequate attention.

One of those issues that I would like to highlight upon is the quality of news our regional news channels deliver. Here, it is worth mentioning that Assam has the highest number of local news channels among all other states of India but it is a pity that the overall quality of journalism in our state is very poor. News in Assam is by all means sensationalized; it is more ‘entertainment’ than news. Incidents like the GS road episode become the talk of the day with the channels showing diverse images of the same issue while a news ‘worth greater importance but lesser TRP’ is totally neglected. A police officer in an intoxicated state is emphasized more than a student glorifying the name of his locality by securing a position in a national level competition; a minister’s foreign tour becomes more important than thousands of people fighting for their lives against a catastrophic flood; a minor burglary gets more focus than a thousand crore scam. These are a few instances which subtly picture the quality of journalism in the north-east and as a result of which we remain oblivious of many important events taking place all around the globe.

Secondly, news in Assam is totally urban-biased or metro centric. The regional news channels have circumscribed the north-east, Assam specifically, into a smaller place called ‘Guwahati’. The channels make it apparent that Guwahati is the only place in Assam which faces problems. From dilapidated streets to flashfloods, from illegal mining to unauthorized felling of trees, from rain to landslides, from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold it seems only Guwahati experiences these all. Two days back, there was this news which said “Aji Guwahatit boroxun dise” (meaning-It rained in Guwahati today) and the reporters were busy asking the pedestrians about how much they were enjoying the rain. For any person residing outside Assam it would be ostensive that it rained only in Guwahati while the truth is that the entire state bathed in the shower. This is just a trivial example to show the biasness of these channels towards Guwahati and their indifference towards the happenings in the other parts of the state. Very few people will know about the fact that the Thelamara Higher Secondary School (about 15 km from Tezpur) won the first prize in a national level folk dance competition organized by the NCERT, New Delhi. And how would people know about it when even our news channels don’t! It is really a pity that such a remarkable achievement did not get the least of focus. But had it been some royal erudite schools of Guwahati, it is most likely that the winners would have received a hero’s welcome with more media focus than necessary. It is a bitter truth that the regional media of Assam knows but one place called Guwahati and the news revolve more or less around this city.

Thirdly and more interestingly, our news channels have this peculiar, rather hilarious trait of presenting news in an extremely embellished style. These channels can make a big issue out of any trivial occurrence which actually may not be worthy of the least media coverage. A mild tremor hits the region and we can see ‘astrologers’ construing it as a sign of the ‘doomsday’, thereby creating a panicky situation all over the state. A small rise in the mercury level classifies the region as a highly global warming-prone-zone while floods are always emblematic of what the channels call a ‘mahapralay’. These kinds of exaggerations have made a complete mockery of the news channels and have lowered the standard of journalism in our state.

Lastly, the colloquial language used by the journalists is a serious anathema for the viewers. There is hardly any decency in their language and when it comes to quizzing a person alleged for committing some offence, their language is no better than ‘slang’. They use all types of informal words which by no means comply with the general media ethics. Furthermore, there is not even the minimum censorship in televising sensitive issues; some clippings which are not very suitable for the younger section to view are emitted without any expurgation. This is very sad on the part of the news channels that they are least concerned with the repercussions that such news might have on the young minds of our society. Press censorship is bad, no doubt, but sometimes a little restriction for the larger good of the masses is acceptable.

Media as we all know is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy. It is at present the most potent means of communication. It enhances our knowledge about the events taking place all over the world and helps in the exchange of ideas and expression of views at the global stage. However, in the context of the regional media of Assam, it needs to improve a lot. It’s high time that the news channels understood the true meaning of journalism and instead of exaggerating an issue of lesser interest they focused on issues of higher stature. The north-eastern part of India takes pride in its cultural diversity, its flora and fauna, its scenic beauty and as such, it deserves recognition not only at the regional level but also at the national and international levels. But then, the onus is on the regional media to give north-east India the place it deserves.

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