Dishonest reporting or accurate and balanced?

IN Media Practice | 19/04/2002
Dishonest reporting or accurate and balanced

Dishonest reporting or accurate and balanced?

New Delhi Television counters criticism of Star News reporting of the Naga exodus from Manipur, but ignores the charges on the visuals.

Pradip Phanjoubam

Editor,
Imphal Free Press

Ayesha Kagal,

Senior Editor,
NDTV

 

  • The news of the Naga exodus that Star News so insistently flashed throughout yesterday (July 20) was disturbing on two counts - both very grave.

    First it was disturbing because we do not want an exodus of any community to happen because it is just not fair. There can be no denying that a good section of the Naga population in the valley have moved out, during the past one month on account of the turmoil in the valley, but the question is, is the scale big enough for it to be described as an exodus, leave aside as a "massive exodus".
    The apprehensions that led this section of the population to abandon station is understandable.

    The widespread protest in the valley against the proposed extension of the ceasefire between the government of India and the Naga underground organisation, the NSCN(IM), and the perceived danger of Manipur disintegrating because of it, has surcharged the atmosphere in the valley area (already 16 people have lost their lives and hundreds injured). The fear that the ire of the protesters may turn communal cannot be by any means irrational.


    So far, the violence witnessed is far from communal, although some provocative slogans and placards carried by the protesters during their marches and sit-in dharnas, are becoming too loud for comfort. The movement leaders, the United Committee Manipur, UCM, has made open appeals to protesters to use only certain slogans that it approves as totally free of communal overtones but the instruction is all too often disregarded. The UCM must now make its appeals more forceful. On no account must a communal twist to the present agitation be allowed. It must also reach out to the section of the population made insecure by the agitations to reassure them that it will stand with them, specially in these times of crisis.

    The situation is fluid and because of this, vested interests can easily sweep the issue to suit their purposes. The exodus issue has highlight this pretty well. Although for contrary reasons, there can be and must be people on either side wishing the exodus to happen. We must together defeat both. Vested interests can and seemingly are manipulating such a human tragedy purely for propaganda advantages.

    The second count on which the "exodus" news on Star News was disturbing is because it seemed far too overplayed. Those of us who saw the programme, will recall that the news bulletin was accompanied by video clippings of a huge line of vehicles preparing to ferry passengers. Although it was not stated, the impression created was that this was one of the convoys detailed for a refugee rescue mission, whisking them away from danger. Unfortunately those of us who are familiar with the major towns of the Nagaland and Manipur know that the town in the backdrop of the lined up "refugees vehicles" was not Imphal but Kohima. A closer look will also reveal two things. That the vehicles bear Nagaland registration numbers and that the vehicles were faced towards Imphal and not the other way around. That is, the passengers of these vehicles were headed towards Imphal and not fleeing from it. And yet the impression created by the clever juxtaposition was just the opposite.
    Imphal journalists know that on July 19 there was a motor rally by the women wing of the South Naga Union of Nagaland, SNUN, from Kohima to Senapati. They also held a public meeting at Senapati, which pressmen from Imphal also attended, although uninvited. There are every reason to believed the lined up vehicles were from this rally.

    According to the Star News bulletin, 20,000 Naga refugees from the Imphal valley are now taking shelter in different refugees camps in the Manipur hills and Nagaland. At Senapati, there are supposed to be 12 such refugee camps, sheltering refugees from including Maring, Thangal tribes. This again is confounding for those of us who have knowledge of the demography of the state. As for instance, why would a Maring like to live in a refugee camp in the northern district of Senapati, or in Kohima or Dimapur further north in Nagaland, when his home district is in the southerly district of Chandel in Manipur.

    The logic can be pushed further. If the Naga population flee the Imphal Valley, in all probability they would head for not just their home districts but their parent villages. For indeed, apart from the Kabuis who have been in the valley for 100s of years and obviously longer than any other Naga tribes, and may in all probability have lost touch with their parent villages, most other Nagas are relatively recent settlers in the valley and are still in close touch with their respective towns and villages in the hills. Hence in the event of an exodus, it is only the Kabuis who will land in the unenviable fate of a refugee. Not the others, for they can take temporary and not so temporary shelters at their parent villages. It is not a coincidence that only a small percentage of the Kabuis population have left. For most of them, the valley is their only home. It was also for these reasons that the press in Imphal did not have any regrets of having played down this story as per the request of the authorities, for it always knew it was in the interest of not creating a panic in the surcharged atmosphere the state is in. It was also with an understanding that if the Nagas from the valley leave, it would be for a temporary break back in their parent villages, only to return home when the situation has calmed. The big buzz here is, there are vested interests taking advantage of the situation and actually making these camps happen for propaganda advantage. We must acknowledge that there are Nagas leaving the valley, but it is hardly likely that they would be heading for refugee camps unless of course they have been encouraged or else coerced to. Those in Nagaland should not have much problem understanding this. It would be like the fate of non Angami Nagas settlers, in a hypothetical situation having to leave Kohima. They would definitely not head for refugee camp in Senapati or elsewhere, but for their respective home villages and towns won`t they? By the same logic when India was partitioned, Hindus in Pakistan did not head for Afghanistan, but for India.

    All in all, the Star News exodus report was a dishonest piece of reporting.

 

  • Mr Phanjoubam`s editorial in the " Imphal Free Press" takes off from what he calls a "dishonest" and "overplayed" Star News story on the exodus of Nagas (July 20) from the Imphal valley, implies the story is part of the "vested interests" manipulating the issue for "propaganda" reasons, goes on to describe a wish list of the situation in Imphal ("we do not want an exodus of any community to happen because it is just not fair" .... "on no account must a communal twist to the present agitation be allowed") and ends up justifying the fact that the press in Imphal has downplayed the story. (" the press in Imphal did not have any regrets of having downplayed the story as per the request of the authorities for it always knew it was in the interest of not creating a panic in the surcharged atmosphere").

    We would like to categorically state that our story is both accurate and balanced and we stand by our story and correspondent.

    The fact that Nagas have been leaving Imphal is clearly not in dispute.The scale seems to be. So how does one choose to report the fact?

    As Mr Phanjobam does: " There can be no denying that a good section of the Naga population in the valley have moved out" ?

    As " near ethnic cleansing" as the Naga People`s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) does? ("The Nagas living in Manipur brought very disturbing reports about the situation of near ethnic cleansing in the Imphal valley. Over 65 percent of the Nagas in the valley have reportedly fled to the hills. The exodus continues," Mr Neingulo Krome, Secretary General NPMHR interviewed in the Indian Express August 3, describing a meeting of Naga groups on July 17 in Kohima.)

    Star News chose `massive exodus"...in our attempt to steer clear of downplaying the issue -- the Meitei view -- or overplaying it -- the Naga view -- and attempting to reach a middle ground where we reported the facts in a responsible manner.

    Also, in our coverage of the situation we have chosen NOT to carry views that we felt could add to the growing communal tension which is becoming a divide:
    -- Naga groups saying their press releases are not carried by the Meitei press;
    -- Naga parents moving out of Imphal saying schools were deliberately not giving their children transfer certificates to enable them to move to schools in other places;
    -- Residents in Imphal`s Naga colonies describing how their houses were pelted with stones, people banging on electric poles, forcing them to join the "spontaneous people`s protests" in the city.
    -- Naga colonies in Imphal told ( forced?) to put up placards within the colonies saying they supported the review of the ceasefire.

    The atmosphere in Imphal is clearly deeply vitiated, which we believe is where the insinuation --- that our story is "propaganda " -- stems from . An insinuation that is disturbing, offensive and communal .


    We have been following the issue of Nagas leaving Imphal since it began and carried a very similar story on the 13th of July. That evoked no response whatsoever. Is it a coincidence that the first story was by Amitabh Revi , a non Naga correspondent and this one -- which has evoked a storm of protest-- is by Bano Haralu, a Naga?

    There has been a concerted campaign against Bano Haralu in Imphal since the story appeared -- where the critique offered by senior journalists in the city begins from the claim that she is a spokesperson for the NSCN -- IM to the fact that she wears a cross around her neck.

    This site can emerge as a very useful forum for journalists to reflect on and discuss the issues that confront us and the choices we make in our work. And while there will be differences in perception and opinion there can also be genuine debate. But this editorial, unfortunately, attempts to conceal its complete subjectivity in a tone of deep affront and injury .

    A motivated diatribe -- whatever its disguise --- is a dead-end, not a starting point for a debate.

 

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