By: Padmashri Patricia Mukhim (Editor, The Shillong Times)

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As someone who has observed the working of the media and also been involved with it for a good three decades, one can immediately list out distinctions and departure in media protocol today. Thirty years ago we were all compelled to read the newspaper; today that’s an option. Most of us read so much on our mobile phones and tablets that we suffer from information overload.

Reading through newspapers would be putting too much pressure on ourselves. But that’s not to say that people don’t read newspapers. The print media still has its loyalists and they prefer the hard copy which they can read at leisure, pick up the threads from where they left before they trundled to respond to nature’s call or got up to carry out a more important task.

As far as practitioners of the trade of journalism are concerned the scenario today is completely different from what it was then. Now we are pursuing a breathless form of journalism where fact-checking does not go through the rigours it did in the past. The hurry is called for because with web journalism there is always the fear that someone else would beat us to that race called ‘breaking news.’ So we decide to call that sort of news, ‘a developing story,’ where errors can be corrected at leisure. This is not how we learnt how to do journalism then. And editors were cruel taskmasters who would push us to check out stories from several sources before publishing them. That was good old journalism. It was journalism with a mission to ferret out the truth and its many shades by collecting dossiers from several sources and then putting the story/stories together.

Investigative journalism was such a thrill to do even when it came with a cost, because, the management would back us up all the way even if it meant fighting defamation cases; which nearly always ended in a black hole and we never were acquitted of the charges or convicted for any.

Today the scene has changed. It is getting oppressive to follow a story especially when the actors are powerful people in positions of power and authority. They will see to it that you are made to pay for the story you have pursued. Look at the criminal defamation cases filed by Anil Ambani against those who accused him of being involved in the Rafale scam. This despite the several irregularities pointed out by petitioners Prashant Bhushan and others in their affidavit to the Supreme Court. The Government alleges that the petitioners relied on documents that are stolen from the Ministry of Defence. One admires the media for pursuing such stories although that genre of media is a vanishing tribe.

Today there are sections of the electronic and print media that peddle the views of the Government and defend it on prime time night after night. One does not even know what to call such media. Certainly, they are not the kind of press envisaged by the framers of our Constitution. Media persons are today accused of sedition and booked under the NSA for critiquing a state chief minister. In many states, journalists are killed for following a story of corruption and sleaze. The climate for the media is oppressive and this will only exacerbate if the NDA returns to power. It’s true that during Indira Gandhi’s regime too media persons were jailed but it is surprising that those who are most vocal about condemning the Emergency are today doing the very same thing.

What is of concern is that the media fraternity has not sat down to discuss the present dangers to itself. As usual we are busy chasing news. At best, media fraternity groups condemn certain actions. But this hardly has any impact on those whose agenda is to do away with independent media.

About the author:

Patricia Mary Mukhim is an Indian social activist, writer, journalist and the editor of Shillong Times, known for her social activism and her writings on mining in Meghalaya and Khasi people of the state. A recipient of honours such as Chameli Devi Jain award, ONE India award, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry FLO award, Upendra Nath Brahma Soldier of Humanity award, Siva Prasad Barooah National award and North East Excellence award, she was honored by the Government of India, in 2000, with the fourth highest Indian civilian award of Padma Shri.

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