Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Much expected, little mind

Nagaland News

Monalisa Changkija

If the human mind is unfathomable, more so is the mind of the Nagaland Government Departments, agencies and undertakings. One understands that all Governments and their Ministries, Departments, agencies and undertakings work in the proverbial mysterious ways that reflect the mind of the political party/parties and personalities in power, as much as the obsession of the bureaucracy to protect their place in the power equations of governance ~ no matter what. So, between the coalescing political and bureaucratic minds, what really happens in governance is indecipherable, enigmatic, arcane ~ apologies for the synonyms but necessary to emphasize the mind of Governments and their machineries, as much as of political party/parties and personalities.
Take the math of the number of Primary School Teachers ~ one never knew that it is the numbers, not the merit, aptitude, qualifications and training that must decide appointment to this nation-building responsibility. Then again, it is also an open secret that who gets appointed to any Government Department, agency and undertaking depends on who heads them ~ Minister/Advisor, Commissioner, Secretary and Director, etc. So, it is not surprising to see so many family members, relatives and co-villagers and people generally close to them are appointed in Departments, etc. Many of these worthies have either retired or passed on but some/most their close ones still work, depending on date of appointment. So, considering who had been heading Governments Departments, etc., perhaps since statehood, the number of appointees in any Department, etc., is clearly reflected in it. In the past, appointments seem to reflect nepotism, tribalism and racism but surely from 2024 onwards things must change? So, it is heartening that our Chief Minister was emphatic on the laid down recruitment rules, regulations and guidelines for recruitment ~ although they are not full-proof against manipulation. Governance is also a work in progress and it all depends on political will to make progress happen.
Now, the independent media, which is not a formal part of any Government or governance but an integral part of democracy; in fact the Fourth Pillar of democracy, widely acknowledged and accepted as crucial to the functioning of democracy and a mirror of the Government. As far as Government Departments, agencies and undertakings are concerned, things are simple ~ there are laid down rules, regulations and guidelines for their functioning that can be traced to the clearly-enunciated ethos, essence and principles in the Constitution. Things are a bit different for the Fourth Estate. While the legislature, executive and the judiciary make the three pillars/Estates of democracy, the fourth pillar/Estate is outside these three pillars/Estates but considered intrinsic to the functioning of democracy. In India, the Constitution acknowledges the Fourth Estate’s existence and its role and responsibilities broadly expressed. There are also Press Laws that guide media’s functioning. However in Nagaland there still appears to be confusion of the media’s place in the functioning of democracy and the role it plays as also the responsibilities it shoulders.
Despite humble beginnings since the freedom struggle, the Indian media saw huge financial, governmental and institutional investments, support, security and protection but no interference in the years preceding Independence. That was never the case in Nagaland. Since its inception, the print media in Nagaland was a fruit of love and labour of individuals, who understood, valued and nurtured the place of media in democracy with passion, struggle and sacrifice. Some have fallen along the way and some will fall along the way but that is not failure ~ just a natural process due to several factors. One of reasons why newspapers have fallen along the way in Nagaland is directly linked to how our Governments have perceived and continue to perceive the Fourth Estate. And this perception either leads to the progress or regress of the media. You see, although the media is not a part of Government or governance, the Government controls the media’s purse by the issuance of advertisements, particularly in small States like Nagaland, which has no corporates. In brief, except for a couple of papers here, all newspapers are dependent on Government advertisements. Consider also that except for three broadsheet newspapers with colour, six-seven of our papers are black-and-white tabloid sized ~ this underscores small and limited personal investments of most of our papers. This was also the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
Back to the mind of our Governments ~ it is not that our Government doesn’t acknowledge the existence and presence of our small papers; it does but this acknowledgment is nuanced. It is amazing that our Government Departments, agencies and undertakings unfailingly ~ in fact, even private institutions ~ mail their press releases, public relations activities and invitations to their programmes to all papers but not their advertisements. The point here is if we are unworthy to publish their advertisements, surely we are equally unworthy to publish their news? Perhaps, the sight of our black-and-white tabloid sized papers discourage them into thinking that we cannot “widely-publicize” (a favourite term of Government Departments and agencies) their advertisements but then shouldn’t the same logic apply for their news also? In 2003, after assuming office for the first time as Chief Minister, Mr. Neiphiu Rio had directed all Departments, agencies and undertakings to advertise in all Nagaland newspapers ~ unfortunately I can’t find the copy of that directive. Perhaps, our Chief Minister could re-issue the same directive? It is the Departments’ responsibility to do the needful but clearly Departments appear to function on whims and fancies, not least biases and prejudices.
The head of a State Government undertaking told me that he has instructed his staff to issue advertisements to all newspapers but his staff doesn’t do the needful. We now know this Staff’s favourite papers. Question is: who calls the shot in Government Departments? Even the wind cannot blow this heavy an answer. Then there are Government Department/agencies’ heads who don’t seem to know how to operate their mobile phones and also doesn’t seem to have been taught, or learnt, any manners and etiquettes ~ no response even after the caller identifies themselves. Notwithstanding exceptions, all these reflect on the Government as unresponsive.
In my almost forty years in the media, very rarely the local media vents its agony and frustrations in public. However, there are limits to silence, suffering and sacrifices. After the beating we took since the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are yet to recover; some of us may never recover. Nagaland Editors did write to the Government for a bail-out package but we never heard back from it. We also never had any interactive sessions with the IPR Minister/Advisor, I can’t quite remember since when ~ perhaps over two decades. The last time local newspapers had a satisfactory interaction was with the IPR Commissioner & Secretary about a decade ago. Unfortunately, he was from another cadre and was soon returned to his encadred State. We also had a productive session with Chief Secretary a couple of years ago at Kohima but that was regarding a specific issue. A political personality did talk to me about meeting us but no walk so far; not even response to calls and messages. All these basically reflect our Government’s perceptions on the local media ~ we are, after all, small fries. But when we write stuff that doesn’t align to their ideologies, perceptions, interests, agenda, motives, etc., things take a different turn.
Much need to be said but for now what really takes the cake is: the last time the Government of Nagaland enhanced the rates for Government advertisements in local papers was dated March 30, 2011 ~ thirteen years ago ~ so much has changed in the economic scenario since then. Last year, I did inform this most powerful political personality close to the Chief Minister and I also Whatsapped the March 30, 2011 Nagaland Government Memorandum to him but till now no show. I wonder if he passed on our concerns to the Chief Minister. So much is expected of the media but so little mind is given to us.

IPR notification
Govt notification on Advertisement Rates

Despite humble beginnings since the freedom struggle, the Indian media saw huge financial, governmental and institutional investments, support, security and protection but no interference in the years preceding Independence. That was never the case in Nagaland. Since its inception, the print media in Nagaland was a fruit of love and labour of individuals, who understood, valued and nurtured the place of media in democracy with passion, struggle and sacrifice. Some have fallen along the way and some will fall along the way but that is not failure ~ just a natural process due to several factors. One of reasons why newspapers have fallen along the way in Nagaland is directly linked to how our Governments have perceived and continue to perceive the Fourth Estate. And this perception either leads to the progress or regress of the media. You see, although the media is not a part of Government or governance, the Government controls the media’s purse by the issuance of advertisements, particularly in small States like Nagaland, which has no corporates. In brief, except for a couple of papers here, all newspapers are dependent on Government advertisements. Consider also that except for three broadsheet newspapers with colour, six-seven of our papers are black-and-white tabloid sized ~ this underscores small and limited personal investments of most of our papers. This was also the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
Back to the mind of our Governments ~ it is not that our Government doesn’t acknowledge the existence and presence of our small papers; it does but this acknowledgment is nuanced. It is amazing that our Government Departments, agencies and undertakings unfailingly ~ in fact, even private institutions ~ mail their press releases, public relations activities and invitations to their programmes to all papers but not their advertisements. The point here is if we are unworthy to publish their advertisements, surely we are equally unworthy to publish their news? Perhaps, the sight of our black-and-white tabloid sized papers discourage them into thinking that we cannot “widely-publicize” (a favourite term of Government Departments and agencies) their advertisements but then shouldn’t the same logic apply for their news also? In 2003, after assuming office for the first time as Chief Minister, Mr. Neiphiu Rio had directed all Departments, agencies and undertakings to advertise in all Nagaland newspapers ~ unfortunately I can’t find the copy of that directive. Perhaps, our Chief Minister could re-issue the same directive? It is the Departments’ responsibility to do the needful but clearly Departments appear to function on whims and fancies, not least biases and prejudices.
The head of a State Government undertaking told me that he has instructed his staff to issue advertisements to all newspapers but his staff doesn’t do the needful. We now know this Staff’s favourite papers. Question is: who calls the shot in Government Departments? Even the wind cannot blow this heavy an answer. Then there are Government Department/agencies’ heads who don’t seem to know how to operate their mobile phones and also doesn’t seem to have been taught, or learnt, any manners and etiquettes ~ no response even after the caller identifies themselves. Notwithstanding exceptions, all these reflect on the Government as unresponsive.
In my almost forty years in the media, very rarely the local media vents its agony and frustrations in public. However, there are limits to silence, suffering and sacrifices. After the beating we took since the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are yet to recover; some of us may never recover. Nagaland Editors did write to the Government for a bail-out package but we never heard back from it. We also never had any interactive sessions with the IPR Minister/Advisor, I can’t quite remember since when ~ perhaps over two decades. The last time local newspapers had a satisfactory interaction was with the IPR Commissioner & Secretary about a decade ago. Unfortunately, he was from another cadre and was soon returned to his encadred State. We also had a productive session with Chief Secretary a couple of years ago at Kohima but that was regarding a specific issue. A political personality did talk to me about meeting us but no walk so far; not even response to calls and messages. All these basically reflect our Government’s perceptions on the local media ~ we are, after all, small fries. But when we write stuff that doesn’t align to their ideologies, perceptions, interests, agenda, motives, etc., things take a different turn.
Much need to be said but for now what really takes the cake is: the last time the Government of Nagaland enhanced the rates for Government advertisements in local papers was dated March 30, 2011 ~ thirteen years ago ~ so much has changed in the economic scenario since then. Last year, I did inform this most powerful political personality close to the Chief Minister and I also Whatsapped the March 30, 2011 Nagaland Government Memorandum to him but till now no show. I wonder if he passed on our concerns to the Chief Minister. So much is expected of the media but so little mind is given to us.

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