EDITORIAL: Acid Test For The Media

Yet another test by the fire awaits the Imphal based newspapers, the Imphal based correspondents of newspapers published outside the State and stringers and contributors to news agencies such as the Press Trust of India and the United News of India. What happened on March 20 this year was a tragedy not only for the family members of the late Irom Roger, but also a tragedy for the whole Manipuri society as well as the family members of the accused persons, who are right now cooling their heels in judicial custody.

We say that this is a tragedy for the whole of the Manipuri society, for as we had said earlier, it reflects the gradual erosion of social values and the type of children we are rearing. It was a true reflection of a society where its value system has gone haywire and there is no social mechanism to differentiate goondaism from heroism or bravery from bravado. The culture of worshipping false heroes is one just example that we can think of at the moment.

While the March 20 incident will certainly be quoted often as an example of sons and siblings and kins of the VIPs throwing their weight around and bullying the lesser mortals, that is the general public, the question that lies in front of the media fraternity of the State is whether they are up to the task of maintaining a free and fair posture on this issue and equally important whether they are able to pass on the message that they have been fair and true to their profession to the bereaved family members. This question will automatically come up, given the vigilant role that the media has taken up in the country (remember the Jessica Lal murder case and the ongoing Aarushi murder case) including Manipur (July 23, 2009 BT Road incident comes to mind immediately).

Apart from this the media will be under a sharper scanner because of the very fact that the father of the prime accused, IFCD and YAS Minister N Biren comes from the journalist fraternity. This is where we need to tread cautiously, for even today, Mr. Biren is deemed to be very close to the media fraternity and any word put in the wrong place can set off a chain reaction that will only add  to the discomfiture of the media here. Trial by the media is often used by the establishment or by those at the receiving end of a case and this is where the tricky part comes in, for the dividing line between a trial by media and pro-active reporting is not prominently drawn but has numerous shades of grey.

According to inputs we have received from our boys and girls who are out there in the field, the family members of the late Irom Roger are already wary of the media since Mr. Biren was an active journalist himself not so long ago and there are bound to be newspapers and Editors deemed close to him and who would do everything to minimize the impact of a young man being shot to death by a gun wielding son of a Minister. We have issued this call to the media fraternity, as credibility and self respect are the two most coveted insignia of a journalist. With many media houses not in a position to hand out pay slips in accordance with the work they put in, journalists in a State like Manipur have to fall back on these two human virtues to keep intact their sense of self respect.

Even after more than seven days of the ghastly incident, there are still many questions that need to be answered. Under what circumstances was Ajay, the son of Biren, granted a gun license? At 27 years of age, he is certainly not a minor and hence entitled to adult stuffs, but are licenses for guns issued to any civilians, who come seeking for it? Isn’t there some sort of a screening or a thorough examination of the reasons why the gun license should be issued in the first place? Was Ajay under any threat perception and if so from whom? And are civilians given license for guns like the M-20? Isn’t there some sort of a restriction on the caliber of the gun that a civilian may possess?

At the moment we only know that a civilian cannot possess a license to procure a 9 mm pistol. These are questions which should have been raised on the floor of the Assembly during its recent Budget session, but for reasons best known to the political class, such posers were not raised at all and what we see today is some token protest staged by the MPP inside the compound of their office and demanding a CBI investigation. We also wonder where all the civil society organizations have gone. No, we are not asking them to take sides, but the least they can do is to come out and question the Government on the rising gun culture. It is not a question of politicizing the issue and yes no one needs to do that just because Mr. Biren happens to be a Cabinet Minister in the SPF Government. However as a Minister, the mantle of the peoples’ leader sits uneasily on his head and along with this comes responsibility and accountability.

The question that we can ask to Mr. Biren is whether he has been able to play the part of the peoples’ leader in a time of crisis like this. We believe that the father of a murderer cannot be punished for the crimes committed by his son, but yet at the same time, there is something called moral obligations and this is more demanding from a public leader than a common man, say a clerk in a Government office or the farmer toiling in the field. This is a rough picture of the overall scenario that Manipur is passing through at the moment and it is in this extremely sensitive time that the media has to execute its work. To a thorough professional, who sleeps, eats and dreams journalism, this will not be a tall order but not everyone has taken up this job on a priority basis. Readers may rest assure that The Sangai Express will continue to stand by its principles and it will not compromise on its duties as a newspaper.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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