Sunday, October 23, 2011

Voice of Barak Valley....yet to find a medium

India has undergone a massive transformation in the media sector in the last couple of decades. Gone are the days when we would wait patiently for the news bulletins on Doordarshan to know about the major events of the day. Today news is a 24X7 business with hundreds of news channels operational in the country. Even the print media sector has expanded exponentially with all the leading news publications opening new editions from many more destinations across the nation. Further, if the ever increasing numbers of news portals are added, it is indeed an explosion of information that we are currently going through.

The otherwise backward north eastern region also seems to have been bitten by the media bug. Several news channels have sprung up with their base in Guwahati. NE TV, News Live, DY 365 are just a few names from the ever increasing list. The print media too has expanded with the Kolkata based Telegraph opening editions in Guwahati and Jorhat. Some FM channels are also doing brisk business in Guwahati and Shillong.

Though the national media is still very reluctant to give prominence to the north east, there has been a bit of a change of late.  After the Anna Hazare campaign, the decade long fast by Irom Sharmila in Manipur was widely reported. Similarly, Assam’s controversial land deal with Bangladesh, the ongoing economic blockade in Manipur and the political unrest in Arunachal Pradesh have also been reported by both the national level print and electronic media establishments.

However, rather surprisingly, despite these positive developments, Barak Valley continues to remain ignored by both the national and state level media. There have been many developments recently surrounding around Barak Valley which have very high significance, but all these issues were very conveniently neglected.

For example, the miserable condition of National Highway 44 is not an issue concerning Barak Valley only. The highway also connects Tripura, Mizoram and parts of Manipur with the rest of the country. Moreover, being a border road, the highway has great significance from the national security and strategic points of view. But forget, the national channels, even the Guwahati based channels did not bother to highlight it.

Similarly, the current impasse regarding the deplorable condition of the Sadarghat bridge is also extremely important. With the economic blockade on National Highway 39, this bridge is the only hope for the necessary supplies to reach Manipur. But quite inexplicably, this is not news for any regional news channel here.  Had the same bridge been located in some district of the Brahmaputra valley, the issue would have surely grabbed headlines.

The incomprehensible delays in the commissioning of the Silchar – Saurashtra Mahasadak or the Lumding – Silchar broad gauge projects also do not concern our national media or the regional news channels.

The people of the north east have alleged for years that the national media ignores them because they don’t generate TRPs. Unfortunately, the same insensitive policy applies in case of the attitude of the regional news channels towards Barak Valley.  The southern part of Assam comprising the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi are not covered by the NE TVs and the DY 365s because the people of this region speak a different language then the main language of communication of these channels.

Even the Bengali news bulletin that NE TV telecasts every evening is a bland translation of the Assamese bulletins with no prominence given to Barak Valley or the other Bengali dominated areas of Assam. Major political events such as the recent visits to Barak Valley by former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Mahanta and AIUDF supremo Badruddin Ajmal were also ignored by these channels.

The Kolkata based Bengali news channels have huge viewership in Barak Valley and Tripura. While Tripura especially Agartala is adequately reported about by these channels, Barak Valley is again ignored. Such tendencies are pushing the region further towards complete cultural and political isolation, where it is very difficult to highlight issues concerning the people.

The print media is considerably more balanced though. Many Guwahati based English papers such as The Telegraph, Eastern Chronicle and The Sentinel report widely about the valley. The Sentinel also has an edition from Silchar. Many committed senior journalists from the region like Shantanu Dey, JL Choudhury and BB Goswami have written regularly about the plight of the people. Of late some bright pass outs from the department of Mass Communication, Assam University are also contributing healthily to these dailies.

The media scenario in Silchar has expanded a lot in the recent times. Dainik Jugasankha is one of the biggest dailies of the entire north eastern region today. Other papers such as Samayik Prasanga, Dainik Prantojyoti, Dainik Janakantha are bringing out daily editions too. The Kolkata based Saradha Group is also going launch an edition of their Bengali daily ‘Sakal Bela’ from Silchar soon. Karimganj also has a Bengali daily named ‘Dainik Nababarta Prasanga’.

These papers are doing their bit to highlight the miserable plight of the common man. However, their reach is limited and confined to a specific area. Moreover, in the present times, the electronic media has immense power to force the government to take action. We have observed that many multi crore scams have been exposed by the electronic media this year.  Therefore, unless, the national and state level media, especially electronic, start bothering about our issues, it may be difficult to give them prominence on a national platform.

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Silchar through the Lense