Assam dailies & TV media lose credibility over political corruption

Poor coverage of CM’s land grab further compromises Assam media

112
Even before the most recent land-grab scam, the mainstream dailies of Assam were censured by the Election Commission for publishing ads of the BJB pretending to be headlines during the state assembly elections Photo thewire.in
Even before the most recent land-grab scam, the mainstream dailies of Assam were censured by the Election Commission for publishing ads of the BJP pretending to be headlines during the state assembly elections Photo thewire.in

While the number of printed book readers continues to grow in Northeast India, the readership of Assam-based newspapers continues to fall. The largest north-eastern Indian state with over 30 million population, still has nearly 25 morning daily newspapers in several languages and numerous other periodicals and magazines.

In addition, Guwahati hosts eight mostly free-to-air satellite news channels and several local cable channels and hundreds of news portals. The combined readership and viewership of the organized news media, may reach 3.5 million, but the number of social media users in Assam exceeds 4.5 million.

Reactions of outspoken readers against a news item in newspapers or news channels are frequent in the largest democracy, but outrage against the mainstream media outlets and digital platforms for not covering a particular issue is unusual. Assam has witnessed just such a public fury against some of the state’s editor-journalists for avoiding the press conferences of the opposition political parties who targeted the state’s chief minister for his family’s alleged land scam.

The public uproar in the alternate media was so intense that the editor-journalists did not dare to even clarify their positions, preferring to avoid the debate. No media association, civil society group or reader and viewers, came forward to defend the otherwise glamorous editor-journalists of the state, when they faced the barrage of outraged social media posts over several days.

The controversy started with investigative articles, by two important digital media outlets in the first week of December 2021, alleging that the Assam chief minister was indirectly involved in a land-grab. The allegations indicated that a real estate company, founded by the local saffron leader’s wife, illegally occupied around 18 acres of government land meant for landless farmers.

Guwahati media evades – social media shames editors for silence

Based on the specific media accusations, three political parties – the Asom Jatiya Parishad, Raijor Dol and the Congress organized press conferences demanding investigations of the land scam. However, for reasons best known to the editor-proprietors of the Guwahati-based newspapers and news channels, they did not cover the issue and simply tried to kill the story.

The issue may have died naturally after some time, but a sudden outburst of anti-media posts on digital platforms surfaced in the morning hours on 9 December. For almost three days, most of the

editors were named and shamed for their silence over the issue in the social media. News channel logos, photographs and strong words against the celebrity editor-journalists became viral.

Assembly speaker disallows discussion of land scam

As soon the state legislative assembly began its winter session on 20 December, the first day’s proceedings were interrupted by opposition legislators wanting to discuss the land scam. However, when the speaker did not allow discussion, the opposition legislators staged a walkout. Although these events were not prominently published by most of the newspapers and news channels, the metro-based morning dailies did allow some space and coverage.

Mainstream media further compromised

The reluctance by the majority of Assam’s mainstream media to cover issues arousing public outrage, can be attributed to their overweening dependence on government advertisement revenues. Facing a serious financial crisis since Covid-19 hit the country, the pandemic has led to plummeting circulation and commercial ad revenues for the newspapers. As the pandemic has continued, TV news channels have also suffered drastic losses of their quality viewership.

Most newspaper managements today do not speak against the government or its policies even if it undermines their credibility. Thus, they have slowly turned into unofficial organs of the government and the ruling party. They cannot easily adapt to new business models like crowd-funding as they are unsure of getting support from their readers. Meanwhile the personal corruption of some of the well-known editors adds complexity to a situation where the public’s goodwill towards the media continues to erode. Even before the most recent land-grab scam, the mainstream dailies of Assam were censured by the Election Commission for publishing ads of the BJP pretending to be headlines declaring its victory even before the votes were counted of the state assembly elections.

Recently, a senior Assamese journalist sensationally posted on social media, that at least seven editors (of city-based news channels) possessed more wealth than they could have earned legally from their jobs. Speaking to this writer, Dipankar Devsarmah, a journalist for more than three decades, said that because of some greedy editor-media owners, the media industry has lamentably lost what credibility it had.

Talking about the naming of these editors in the social media, Devsarmah asserted that although it may be unpleasant for many, the allegations of disproportionate wealth are true. He added that the details about the editors’ properties and luxury vehicles are with him, and could be made public if the need or occasion arises. Moreover, the editor Ajit Bhuyan (presently a member of the Rajya Sabha) recently resigned from his editorial position, citing constraints in covering the chief minister’s family’s land issue. “To remain true to my conscience I had to take this decision,” stated Bhuyan.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

Subscribe Now

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here