(Published in The Indian Express, 18-07-2012; http://m.indianexpress.com/news/under-fire-for-the-way-they-treat-news-live/975762/)
Samudra Gupta Kashyap
On January 21, 2008, when Guwahati’s first satellite TV news channel was launched in a glittering function, those behind it vowed not only to make it a mirror of society but also to try and bring the people of the Northeast into the national mainstream.
Over the last few days, as the nation discusses the sexual assault of a woman on the streets of the Assam capital, it is this channel, NewsLive, that has come into focus for the role it played.
There have been allegations that one of its reporters orchestrated the molestation. This has led to resignations not only by Gaurav Jyoti Neog, the NewsLive off-duty reporter who “happened to pass by” when the molestation happened, but also by its editor-in-chief, Atanu Bhuyan.
“I have serious doubts about a fair investigation, especially after the chief minister made a remark accusing my reporter,” said Bhuyan who, having quit as editor-in-chief, will remain on the board of directors of NewsLive, a “dream project” of Pride East Entertainments Pvt Ltd. The board is headed by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, wife of health minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma, as the CMD, while Atanu Bhuyan is one of four directors.
The website of NewsLive says “objectivity blended with reliability” is the channel’s hallmark. “Sensitively treating stories and pepping up with crisp scripts, creative editing, and smart voice-overs [are] our forte. Our priority is to bring to the fore stories that affect common people – it [need not] be necessarily politics or crime, but also social issues of relevance,” it says.
Each of Guwahati’s five satellite channels, like many elsewhere, speak about objectivity and fairness but many have challenged how far they stick to those objectives.
“The print media had its shortcomings, but newspapers never contributed towards any serious social degradation the way these TV channels have in just five years,” said Haider Hussain, editor-in-chief of Asomiya Pratidin, the largest Assamese daily newspaper. “With the sudden proliferation of TV, there is also an increasing tendency of distorting the facts.”
A few years ago, when Jnanpith award winner Mamoni Raisom Goswami launched a campaign against animal sacrifice in rituals, one channel beamed live the sacrifice of buffalo calves and goats in temples. It stopped only when a police officer, shown offering an animal for sacrifice, hit back by threatening to sue the channel for infringing upon his faith.
Then in November 2007, TV channels showed footage of an Adivasi girl being stripped naked in the city after a rally had turned violent not far from the chief minister’s office.
“It is true that with TV here we get news and information almost instantly,” said Mridula Saharia, former chairperson of Assam State Commission for Women. “But what is dangerous is a tendency of flouting ethics and legal restrictions and sensationalising trivial things.”
“What is lacking in our channels is the emphasis on research in putting out a story… panel discussions revolve mostly around trivial issues. They even discuss women’s dress and character,” said Anurita Pathak of North East Network, a women’s rights group.
But Manoj Kumar Goswami, editor-in-chief of DY365, Guwahati’s other major satellite channel, said, “Such things are not happening only in Guwahati. This is a nationwide phenomenon… Moreover, almost every media house wants to become a power-centre, and when politicians get involved in ownership, things become difficult.”
Delhi-based Assamese journalist Utpal Borpujari too is concerned about what channels deal with. “Do what our local channels telecast regularly — husband-wife fights, public beating of alleged criminals, incidents like the molestation or the MLA Rumi Nath assault— really need be shown in such graphic detail? How is it always the camera crew that gets the news in open public spaces and not the police?” Borpujari said.