Hey Mainstream Media, Biplab Deb Isn’t the Only News in Northeast

It’s only when a Biplab Deb makes a ridiculous statement that ‘national media’ wake up and take note of Northeast.

5 min read
Hey Mainstream Media, Biplab Deb Isn’t the Only News in  Northeast

The Tripura Chief Minister is today the connoisseur of Freudian slips. Having arrived at the top address in the Tripura Secretariat must have tickled him no end. Kudos to those that elected a comedian for a chief minister. And guess what? The national media has suddenly learnt to spell T-R-I-P-U-R-A.

Yes, the ‘national’ media, often called the ‘mainstream media’, which claims to represent the nation and outrageously dumps on all of us a phrase “the nation wants to know,” has gone to town on Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb’s inanities.

Deb wanted publicity and he got it in full measure. Except that each statement he made bordered on the ridiculous. Did the media need to give so much space to this single chief minister of a northeastern state newly acquired by the BJP?


‘Responsible Media’, Where Are You?

Of course, there is a lot of sniggering still going on over social media, but that’s another platform – a non-serious one for those with time to fiddle around with their mobile phones. But the traditional media both online and offline are supposed to practice “responsible” journalism, which is what they advertise on television and billboards across metros. But is it responsible journalism to report gibberish by a chief minister who is evidently out of his depth with the new post he is occupying?

Too busy to read? Listen to it instead.

It is bad enough for an entire geographical space to be lumped as a region – the Northeast – despite the fact that each state has its own sets of priorities and development goals. Not only that, but an institution that endorses this lazy labelling was created in 1972 – The North Eastern Council.

This, and several other institutions with the prefix ‘Northeast’ were also ingeniously crafted to make the people here feel they are granted more patronage by a doting central government. But the truth is something else. This region, because of its proximity to China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, has featured in the books of the Indian secret service as a ‘security threat.’

Even the genuine demand for a separate time zone by the seven states, since Arunachal Pradesh in the extreme east of the country has its sunrise at 4 am in summer and 5 am in the winters, has been shot down.

The Intelligence Bureau contends that because the region already feels different and alienated from the rest of India, a different time zone would only exacerbate the alienation.

The Govt & Media’s Perennial Blind Spot

Sadly enough for the seven states, their chief ministers have not made common cause on this vital issue that could have increased our productivity many times over and perhaps given more time for kids to play outdoors and not just be cooped up in their classrooms followed by private tuition thereafter.

A separate time zone would mean that office-goers don’t arrive at the workplace at midday – which is what most state government employees do now. Has the mainstream media made an issue of this? No, because such matters that impact development are insipid for their audience.

Now, it’s only entertainment that sells on prime time television and newspapers follow suit. Except for that rare article coming from writers from the region, no one even bothers to investigate the anxieties that beset the people living in each of the seven states.

Those who have travelled here will have a deeper understanding of how difficult it is for people to traverse within districts in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. The roads are travel-worthy only within state capitals and just slightly better in district headquarters. Beyond that, no one really cares about bridging the distance between the rural populace and the markets. Hence, producing anything for the market is a formidable challenge.

Yet the rural folks continue to strive because they need to sell their products and buy what they cannot grow. Pointing out these development vacuums is the remit of all media.

And no, New Delhi is not India. And “news” isn’t just what happens in Delhi. What happens in the seven states in the far eastern periphery of India also qualifies as news – not just when profanities are muttered by dimwit political leaders but all the time, even when the peace is not shattered by guns and bombs.

Delhi Media Clueless About Real Issues in Northeast

The development backlogs of the seven states ought to have drawn the attention of the ‘national’ media – whatever that means. That would have shamed those sitting in the air-conditioned offices in North and South Block and called out their deeds of omission and commission.

Omission for continuing to fund projects that have gone bad, and commission for not strictly evaluating and monitoring projects, nor penalising state governments for time and cost overruns.

If the central government has no credible monitoring system in place, it should contract an independent agency to do so. That would have doused the flames of corruption before completely burning out the moral fibre of the politicians and bureaucrats here.

Two of the seven states don’t have a functioning airport as yet, when the small state of Kerala has four international airports and a fifth one in the pipeline. Aren’t all states supposed to get equal attention? Since Meghalaya has no functional airport, the IIM Shillong, North Eastern Hill University and North East Indira Gandhi Regional Institute for Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) miss out on opportunities to invite visiting professors to enrich their research and educational experience.

Does the ‘national’ media care to report this? No, because journalism today is about ‘expressive individualism’ with media owners tailoring the news to suit their vested interests. The seven easternmost states of India are victims of this ailment.

Selective Coverage

Once in a while, when the discussion veers around the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) then the ‘national’ media suddenly rounds up people (who have a distant connection with one of the states), and compels them to wax eloquent on the six other states as if they are all septuplets with the same genetic implants or disorders. This makes those of us on the easternmost periphery squirm in our seats – we don’t want to be stereotyped.

Yet how do we make ourselves heard when the loudspeaker is turned in the opposite direction? Even the power holders are insulated from what’s happening in a part of the country many have never visited and don’t even know exists.

The mainstream media is only interested in the seven states during elections and when the results are out. After that, the states are left to stew in their own juices. Long live journalism. Long live ‘national’ media.

After Biplab Deb is told to take a verbal sabbatical, Tripura will go off the radar; the other states a forgotten story in any case, unless their CMs decide to do a Biplab! So it’s going to be a long, silent spell from the region that India’s Delhi-based media houses choose to romance once in five years, or when the peace is shattered.

(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB. She can be reached @meipat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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