Media Bias Reporting

Published on September 20, 2010

By Thangkhochon Haokip

The importance of media, the fourth pillar of democracy, is known to all. The critical role it plays in the democratic functioning of society is undisputed fact. Among others, it is the tool of communication between the elites and the folks. Media shapes public opinion through exchange of news, views and ideas. It is the symbol of justice, and stood for neutrality in that it does not side with any particular group, party or individual.

Of all the various forms of media, print media, or specifically, newspaper is the most authentic, reliable source of information and is easily accessible in urban areas. Through its regular coverage of issues and happenings, it puts the government in check and holds accountable. Transparency to a large extent is ensured because of vigilant and vibrant media.

However, the ethics of media is often violated, intentionally and or unintentionally. Many times, facts are distorted, views and speeches twisted, data manipulated and pictures doctored. The issue of objectivity and subjectivity in reporting is a recurrent practice. The same incident is often reported in different ways based on the reporters’ interest.

As for instance, Spain’s triumph over The Netherlands in the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa was reported radically differently. The Spanish daily, El Mundo’s headline read – “Our Spain…from here to eternity.” On the other hand, Dutch sports paper AD Sportwereld commented thus – “The Dutch national team perished in the World Cup final – thanks largely to a chump of a referee.”

Another report is worth mentioning. The headline of The Hindu dated July 26, 2010 read – “Tension in Imphal East villages.” Attracted by the capturing headline, I went through the contents to see what it was all about. It happened to be a case of gunfight between KNF on one side and KRA and KLA combined on the other side near Saichang and Bongjang villages in which the villagers for safety sake left the villages to take shelter in neighboring villages.

The casualties suffered on either side and the inconvenience caused to the villagers was of course unwelcome. But what matters more in this context is the very distortion and manipulation of facts in the report. Saichang and Bongjang villages which are under Saikul A/C and Police Station in Sadar Hills east district was wrongly reported as if they are under Imphal East district.

The reporter Mr. Iboyaima Laithangbam in all probability is not likely to be ignorant that these Kuki villages are very much under Sadar Hills east district (or for that matter Senapati district). It can safely be argued that it is an act of deliberation.

The hidden agenda is not unknown. The process of Meiteiisation or Kangleipakisation to nearby hill districts, launched by the valley people, is pursued in letter and spirit. The recent incidents of Kangvai in Churachandpur district and Kangchup in Sadar Hills west district over district boundary issue and census overlapping is one such violent processes. The sad part is that the district boundaries of Bishnupur and Imphal West respectively are extended to these places simply because some valley people who in fact are later migrants reside.

The same report in The Hindu further wrongly mentioned KNF (P or President) as KNF (Presidium). For your kind information, there is no militant group by that name. The P or President was suffixed by media some 15 years ago when KNF (MC) broke away from the parent organization (KNF), headed by the President to differentiate the two groups.

The report was not the first time the Imphal correspondent manipulate the facts. Even if facts are reported correctly, on many accounts, concluded with negative comments when it comes to news relating to tribals. As one living outside the State and a regular reader to The Hindu for the last half decade, the bias reporting, or say, the communal mindset of Manipur is often reflected in his reports.

It is also found that while he could not afford to miss any incident of gunfight in distant hills, or recurrent issues of extortion or kidnapping by tribal militants, which every militant group in Manipur is indulges in, one could not believe that there was an active reporter from Manipur during 2006-’07 when UNLF went on rampaging the southern Manipur hills.

The mindless gang raping of Hmar-Kuki women in Parbung and Thanlon in Ccpur district; the gruesome forced labour, extortion, landmine trap laid around Kuki villages that maimed and killed many innocent villagers and many more livestock, and the abduction of more than 400 Kuki villagers in Chandel district across Indo-Myanmar international border by the proscribed valley-based militant outfit was nowhere reported in national dailies.

It is to be recalled that following these inhuman crime meted out to innocent villagers, 1000-odd Kuki students under the banner of Kuki Students’ Organization, Delhi staged two mega rallies in New Delhi’s Parliament Street on March 3 & 23, 2007 in which more than 150 students were detained by the Delhi Police. Hence, it is safe to say that it is irony that the active reporter from Imphal was rather passive on these. Worse, even the state dailies did not report these. If at all reported rarely, it is learnt from the victims that those reports were merely dictated by the captivators by gunpoint.

To be frank, these in fact are not expected of highly professional journalists who stand for justice, neutrality and objectivity. It is to be noted that there are many Iboyaima Laithangbams in the media fraternity. Bias reporting being an ever present practice should not be the justification for deliberate manipulation to pursue a hidden agenda. It indeed undermines the value of media because it violates the ethics on which it stands.

The negative fall out is its potential for generating ill-feeling, hatred and breeding of tension and the sending of incorrect information to the distant readers which overshadows the truth. What if the people in majority control the media to exploit the minorities? Can there be justice if media is used to further the interests of the stronger people? Can we hope of a just society when, to quote Theophrastus, “justice is the interest of the strong?”

This will throw us back to the ‘good’ old authoritarian regime where the ruling class used media to subjugate the ruled and spread the propaganda that suits their interests, thereby perpetuating the regime. It is therefore highly crucial on the part of public media fraternity to be more sensible, ethical and objective. It is only when the press maintain these bedrocks that truth will be known, justice and thus peace prevail.

The writer is a post-graduate student of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

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