ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Manipur and Mainstream Media

Lost in the Rhetoric

The clashes in Manipur over three controversial bills passed by the Manipur assembly last year extending the Inner Line Permit System have exposed not just the divisions within Manipuri society between the hill people and those living in the valley, but also the attitude of mainstream Indian media towards such conflicts in the North East. Instead of bringing out the historical underpinnings of the current conflict, the media has preferred to reduce the problem to a binary of two conflicting views.

The agitation over the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) in Manipur has revealed the insecurities of small ethnic populations in the North East region at the prospect of being overwhelmed by an influx of migrants into their traditional homelands, and the deep divides amongst the ethnic populations themselves. But it has also exposed a serious weakness in the profession of journalism that many communication scholars have been pointing out (Harcup 2004), a weakness that becomes most pronounced in coverage of conflict situations.

While the first two revelations are quite obvious, it is the last which needs a little more elaboration. At the root of this contention is what these scholars call a deceptive but false interpretation of objective distance, as the idea is generally understood in journalism. The foremost quality of being objective by this definition is for journalists to distance their reporting from their own opinion. Unfortunately, this definition does not say much more. As a result, journalists resort to getting two opposing “yes” and “no” voices and placing them side by side in the belief that this meets the demands of objectivity. In the process, they reduce objectivity to a ritual of “objectivism.” While the journalist’s own opinion is missing from such reports, what remain are “attributed opinions” (Harcup 2004), thereby taking nobody any closer to the truth of the situation being reported.

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