Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Column

Media in Nagaland: Challenges and Opportunities

Monalisa Changkija

To a great number of people across the globe ~ even in the rest of the country ~ it may come as a surprise that we celebrate 175 years of media in the North East of India today. It may even come as a surprise for a lot of people in this region. But most certainly not for people, who have grown up in or have been closely woven into the Northeastern societal roots, academicians, media practitioners and media watchers of the generations that made history and were in the forefront of social, cultural, political and economic histories of the Northeast. The media in the Northeast is intrinsically linked to the socio-cultural, economic and political histories of this region. It is inherent and integral to the Northeastern weave. Today, while we may trace the concept of the modern media ~ the Fourth pillar or Fourth Estate ~ to historical events of Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, it would be a negation of, hence an injustice to, the inherent concept of media in ancient and traditional communities and societies ~ including in our part of the world ~ that was also practiced here much before we heard of Europe and its history. Perhaps, the modes and technologies were different but the concept of free speech and expression, of the right to tell, know, share, create, shape and garner public opinion, was known and practiced by us. So, in a way, while we celebrate 175 years of modern media in the Northeast today, we must also celebrate centuries of the traditional genres of media that were a way of life for us in this region, which have seamlessly woven into the modern constructs of the media in the Northeast.  

Media in Nagaland

Contrary to what many, especially the younger generations, believe that the media in Nagaland is a recent development ~ it is definitely not something that happened since the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, origins of the present form of the Fourth Estate in Nagaland date back to much before Indian Independence. Since the 1960s till the 1990s, there were several Weeklies, based at Kohima and Dimapur, which folded up in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to various reasons. As of now, we have four English Dailies ~ Nagaland Post, Nagaland Page, Morung Express and Eastern Mirror~ , two Ao Dailies ~ Ao Milen and Tir Yim Yim ~, one Angami Daily  Capi and one Sumi Daily Sumi Küküpütsa and one Nagamese newspaper Nagamese Khobor ~ all registered with the Registrar of Newspapers of India. One Ao Daily and all our English Dailies are based at Dimapur while two local language Dailies, the Angami Daily Capi isbased at Kohima and Ao Daily Ao Milen is basedat Mokokchung.

This is the present. Now, let us look at the past. Many, even in Nagaland, may not be aware but Ao Milen, based at Mokokchung,started in 1932 as a Weekly and was converted into a Daily in April 2003. It was started by the Ao Kaketshir Mungdang (Ao Students’ Conference) ~ the apex student body of the Ao Tribe. The Ao Kaketshir Mungdang (AKM) continues to own and publish the paper.Many may also not be aware of Kewhira Dielie, an Angami monthly newspaper, which was a single-sheet legal sized paper printed on both sides, published by George W Supplee, an American Baptist missionary, based at Kohima. The date of its publication is unclear however a photo-stated of copy of its April 22, 1932 issue is still in existence in the possession of Reverend Keviyleklelie Linyü. The Reverend also recalls coming across the May, 1932 issue of Kewhira Dielie, on which Volume 3 was printed. So, it may be safe to assume that Kewhira Dielie began publication in March, 1932.          

It is most likely that Nagaland’s first English newspaper was The Naga Nation, a monthly, which was the newspaper of the Naga National Council (NNC). In an article titled: Christianity and Society in Nagaland: Media, Newspapers, News and Christianity, Reverend Keviyleklelie Linyü wrote in the now-defunct Daily Nagaland Today, dated January 19, 2019, The Naga Nation was named Times of Kohima originally however “after two issues, it was renamed The Naga Nation at the suggestion of A Kevichusa in October 1946”.  Volume 1 and Volume 2 were printed in the August and September issues of the Times of Kohima so it can also be safely assumed that The Naga Nation started publication in August 1946. Reverend Linyü also wrote: “The paper was edited by T Aliba Imti and T Sakhrie” and the yearly subscription was ₹2. He further wrote: “…though this paper was the monthly paper of the NNC, it was printed by George W Supplee, the missionary at Kohima, and printed at Kohima Government High School ~ a school started by the Baptist Mission in partnership with the Government.”    

Even after over 88 years, it is most unfortunate that we don’t have a documented history of the Fourth Estate in Nagaland but the occasion of the 175th years of media in the Northeast is a good time to salute Kewhira Dielie, Ao Milen and The Naga Nation for their path-breaking and path-making role in the history of the media in Nagaland. I would encourage members of our fraternity as well as researchers and academicians of the Northeast to study the emergence, evolution and the history of the Fourth Estate in Nagaland. This documentation is critical for democratic institution-building in Nagaland ~ as indeed in the rest of the region.      

Some of the Weeklies of the 1960s till the 1980s were Citizens’ Voice, Nagaland Today, Nagaland Times, Ura Mail, Hills Express, The Kohima Weekly, Nagaland News Review, Nagaland Observer, Platform, etc. In this category, Nagaland Times, which was owned by the Nagaland Nationalist Cooperative Society, formed by the Nagaland Nationalist Organization (NNO) ~ which later merged with the Indian National Congress on June 19, 1976 ~ was an exception. While it started as a Dimapur-based Weekly in 1970, it was converted into a Daily in the early 1990s but folded up in 1996.  

Meanwhile, the emergence of the Fourth Estate in Nagaland doesn’t owe its existence today only to European roots. The need for dissemination of news and information always existed in Naga society ~ as indeed in societies across the globe. In fact in Nagaland, traditionally we had the village news disseminator, who, as our oral histories recount, would go around the village beating a drum and informing villagers the news and information of the day ~ much as in any traditional society before the Industrial Revolution and the invention of modern printing machines. In every society the need for information dissemination was strongly felt, as also the need for “holding up the mirror”, so to speak. So, since then the Fourth Estate in Nagaland till today is an evolution of the rudimentary form of the media we always had. Today we are an evolution of a very ancient need of society but its manifestation is not permanent. The present manifestation is a by-product of the changing times, needs, challenges and developments of the local and global society and the dynamics thereof. Tomorrow, we may not recognize ourselves. Especially now with the emergence of the Fifth Estate, which is said to be a socio-cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, and is most associated with bloggers, journalists publishing in non-mainstream media outlets, and social media or “social license”. Some media experts assert that the Fifth Estate constitute political pundits. We will have to wait and see how this pans out.

Challenges

Conflict in Nagaland is generally perceived through the prism of insurgency and militancy and worse still, such conflicts are perceived to exist in a vacuum or in isolation from the various other conflicts that not only create insurgency and militancy but also those that are created by insurgency and militancy. But the widely believed conflicts created by insurgency and militancy are only a part of the larger conflicts confronting Nagaland and it is these larger conflicts that pose perhaps greater challenges to the media in this State.  

Let us appreciate the fact that Nagaland’s tribal communities were in existence centuries before the rise of some conflicts such as insurgency and militancy. In fact, these are recent developments, not even a century old. Older conflicts relating to numerous waves of migrations, histories, ideologies, politics, cultures, traditions, religions, beliefs, superstitions, lore and legends of primarily tribal societies are harder to deal with, especially through the prisms of modern concepts such as democracy and institutions thereof, which are of the alien variety, unmindfully imposed post-Independence on ancient societies that have a highly developed sense of democracy and the concepts and practices thereof, as also institutions like the media, which are quite beyond the comprehension of minds that are still psychologically and culturally more attuned to ancient concepts and practices. Not surprisingly, the media is not generally perceived as an integral institutional component of democracy crucial to nurture and strengthen democratic ethos to reach higher planes of civilization but as just another agency that must be perceived with suspicious eyes. The main challenge to the media here is the huge communication gap between the media manned by people with totally different and divergent perspectives and its target groups, who have totally different and divergent views of democracy and its institutions, as also of civilization. This too must be understood from the fact that the society of Nagaland exists in several worlds, as well as the generational gaps.   

As a consequence, there are several kinds of power struggles and each of them seeks to control the media and make it pliant to the numerous power struggles that are as ancient as Time itself. And insurgency and militancy in Nagaland are some of these power struggles. So when we talk about the challenges confronting the media in the State, we have to understand and appreciate, as also be able to discern, the varied and various kinds of conflicts that pose these challenges to the media in our little State.  

Besides the usual challenges that insurgency and militancy pose to any media in any part of the globe, perhaps what is often forgotten, ignored and belittled are the challenges such as tribalism, conflicting aspirations and interests, cultural diversities and dreams and schemes of tribal hegemony, as also power struggles at varied and various levels of society, perhaps due to the prevalent multiplicity of value-systems we subscribe to, which confront the media, especially keeping in mind that these are the very same factors that also spawn insurgency and militancy. This can be understood and appreciated better if we keep in mind the historical fact that not only have tribal communities of Nagaland been rudely tossed from our subsistence economies into modern forms of economies but also the fact that our histories and cultures were unceremoniously hijacked at a certain point of time by alien forces and factors. This has disoriented Nagaland’s tribal communities and this disorientation has spawned conflicts, which in turn also pose challenges in some form or the other to the media in this State. What needs to be underscored here is that standing at the crossroads of the traditional and modernity, Nagaland’s tribal communities are not very sure as to how to view the media, which is after all, an institution of the modern concept of democracy, and what its agenda is. So anything unknown is inevitably viewed with suspicion, as sometimes treated as ‘unfriendly’. 

Against the background of such challenges to the media in Nagaland, what is required is an in-depth study of the psychological profiles of our peoples, which have shaped our histories, economies, politics, cultures, traditions, laws, lore and legends, keeping in mind that simultaneously these very same factors have also shaped our psychological profiles over the centuries. The interesting aspect of it all is that the modern media in Nagaland may be a result of western or modern orientation by way of education and the technological revolution increasingly reaching to the remotest of areas but the women and men, who form the media in this region, are also products of Nagaland’s tribal communities and cannot escape the weight of the concepts and practices of our tribal communities. Here we also need to deal with the challenges to the media both from within the media since we are moulded by and in the soil we grow on. One of the challenges that the media in Nagaland confront is created by our own fraternity due to our inability or unwillingness to shed our biases and prejudices, as also our traditional and cultural viewpoints of the world in general. Consequently, we sometimes tend to sideline one of the tenets of democracy ~ the role of the facilitator of and be the platform for freedom of thought and expression to be an actual right of our people and also a weapon in our people’s hands for their will to be supreme ~ thereby unwittingly imprisoned ourselves to the ‘dominant’ politics, economics, cultures, ideologies, narratives and what is made out to be the ‘dominant aspirations’ of our peoples. This perhaps ranks as one of the greatest challenges to the media in the rest of the Northeast too. It is also from this aspect, the perceptions and perspectives of the State Government(s) vis-à-vis the media, in its dealing with and of the media must be seen ~ besides, its political considerations and calculations and ideological leanings.

The primary challenge for the media in Nagaland is then to find ways and means to help our people study and analyse the numerous character, content, text, context, subtext and dimensions of the issues of conflicts and find their own answers and solutions, as also act as a bridge to help our people to find democratic platforms to address conflicting issues, without abdicating our (the media’s) roles and responsibilities clearly underscored as the raison d’etre for the existence and the necessity of the Fourth Estate in a self-respecting democracy. This could help reduce the challenges confronting us every day in numerous ways. After all, it is these conflicts and discords that have created challenges to the media in Nagaland.

Opportunities

Perhaps never has Nagaland needed the media more than now. We are not only at the crossroads of new vistas opening before us and at the vortex of rapid changes in all spheres of human activities and endeavours but we are also at the centre of the process of making history or becoming history. Keeping in mind that no Estate or pillar of democracy can be excluded or ignored at this crucial point of time in our history, opportunities for the media in and of Nagaland cannot be over-emphasized. Therefore, the media must regard itself as one instrument, platform and institution that must be made central towards this objective. In the process, it must also make Society and State of Nagaland regard the media as central to the actualization/realization in its exploration of the opportunities that lay before this Society and State.   

It is unfortunate that over time, in our erroneous belief that we must ‘develop’ and we are ‘developing’ like the others, who we believe are more ‘developed’ than us, there are attempts to convert, transform, even distort, the media into a Public Relations wing of the political parties, the government of the day and the political, economic, social and cultural elite for which we will pay the price sooner than later. As the media, we must contribute relentlessly towards ushering in the kind of development that is crucial to our region ~ the first being endeavours to bring about change in our people’s attitudes and mindset by providing alternative, liberal, progressive and democratic narratives of development. The opportunities in this aspect are limitless.

Since Nagaland’s tribal communities still remain steeped in the traditional, it would be a grave mistake to ignore our traditional tools and platforms of media, which have more impact on our people, considering that it is not the possession of scientific and technology gizmos that gauge the level of development but the attitudes and mindsets ~ the level of our thinking and analyzing process. Also, considering the level of awareness, education and exposure of our people, not only in rural areas but also of a vast majority in urban centres, our people should be able to identify with the medium, as well as the message. This entails the conquering of the creative frontiers to shape opinions, provoke thought processes away from the beaten path and provide imaginings that inspire innovative and enhanced ways of life and living.     

Since the media has become an integral part of our people’s lives now ~ one way or the other ~ vast opportunities lay before the media to make the people identify with the media as a platform to demand and receive the full benefits of the rights, freedoms and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. But first we must ask certain question: does Society and State perceive the media as a crucial pillar of democracy? Or is the media perceived to be an irritant in the flesh of policy-making, market calculations and the dreams and schemes of the elite and the privileged? Is the media perceived to be the bridge between policy-making and the people at whom these policies are aimed or is it perceived to be a ‘spoil-sport’ or ‘interfering nuisance’? How crucial do policy makers believe is the media for the successful implementation of their policies and how crucial do the people believe the media is to ensure that policy makers make the right policies for and in their interest? What is Nagaland’s business elite’s perception of the media? Does it perceive it as a subsidiary Public Relations business sector or as an institution of democracy vital for honest competition in all aspects of trade, commerce and industry? Does Nagaland’s business elite perceive the media as an institution that is crucial to ensure that our people are not short-changed, which in turn would facilitate a much-changed narrative we dream and talk about?

Needless to elucidate the traditional role of the media in any self-respecting democracy at this point but it must be reiterated that despite the changes in political, social and economic systems and structures that occur constantly, the media’s traditional role remains constant and they cannot be twisted and distorted but only at great peril and cost to society and state. At the same time, the changes that we have been experiencing in our political, economic, social and legal systems and structures necessitate the media to play newer roles and shoulder newer responsibilities, wherein the media must see opportunities galore. This means that the media too must change and adapt to newer and changing equations and dynamics without compromising on the fundamentals of the Fourth Estate in a democracy.

Because democracy and development are the two sides of the same coin, there are now varied and various opportunities for the media in Nagaland to be more proactive in both the issues. Democracy must necessarily usher in development and development must necessarily enhance democracy. Perhaps, the media is best placed to educate, create awareness and frame public opinion to underscore and facilitate people’s demand for democracy and development as their moral, constitutional, human and fundamental rights. This necessarily underscores issues of the absence of security, threat to life and limbs, discrimination and crimes against women and children, as well as other vulnerable sections of society, a corrupt and unresponsive political system, an unequal and non-empathetic economic system, a discriminating, stigmatizing and victimizing social system and an biased and partial legal and judicial system to address and redress people’s grievances and discontent ~ issues that are existentially fundamental to the media as the vanguard of the people in a democracy. In an evolving society and State like Nagaland with the political, ideological, cultural and economic traditional and the modern still vying for greater space and traction and at the same time, several power-centres contesting each other’s legitimacies and validities, never has there been more opportunities for the media in Nagaland than now to safeguard, secure, protect and defend democracy and the people’s interests with the core of its rationale being. Clearly, the urgency of a free and an independent media in a globalized and post-liberalized world cannot be over-emphasized ~ more so in a development-deficit State like Nagaland.

Besides the traditional political, social and economic challenges the media in Nagaland persistently confront, considering the changed world we live in and envisaging more changes, every which way, it is imperative that the media garner capital, labour, human resources, management and technologies to infuse itself with renewed vigour. The opportunities in this too are limitless. In Nagaland, the media survive on practically no capital, the minimum of labour, the most unskilled human resources, the least of management and the most obsolete of technologies. Barring a handful of media houses based at urban centres in the Northeast, the media here practically survive on love and fresh air. It is a wonder that it survives at all. While this is the strength of the media in Nagaland, it is not a satisfactory scenario.

By the very fact that the media in Nagaland walks on grounds where Angels fear to tread, there are even more opportunities and potentials for it to be a fundamental institution, agent, platform, instrument and catalyst of change and sustainable human development, as also a stronger watch-guard of democracy, if it so resolves. Against the backdrop of the fact that the media, anywhere in the world, is not as structured as the other estates of democracy such as the legislative, the judiciary and the executive, and often perceived as an infringement on vested interests, create ample opportunities for the media in Nagaland, and elsewhere, to shape itself into any form, as and when the need arises, to meet challenges~ thereby create more opportunities to establish itself as indispensable to democracy and progress.

(Journalist and Poet Monalisa Changkija is Editor, Nagaland Page)

(Courtesy: 175 Years of Media in Assam and Beyond. Published by POWERSHIFT, Printed at Bhabani Offset & Imaging Systems Pvt. Ltd, Guwahati)

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