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  Media
Where Editors Swindle Reporters
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Joseph Pulitzer
(1847-1964)
is the world famous Hungarian-born American journalist and Pulitzer Prize founder. He is the role model for young journalists around the world. His money led to the foundation of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Missouri School of Journalism.

Editors in newspapers are regarded as guide and mentors for the reporters. More over, an editor is recognized as the ultimate leader of the news desk, who takes the responsibility to direct the whole media team for a sustained growth. The editor also provides space for the promising reporters to enrich their experiences, such that they can prosper in the profession. But could an editor turn into a selfish individual, who does not hesitate to get the reporters deprived of a momentous opportunity?

A debate has grown up in Assam following an unfortunate incident, where an Assamese editor was dropped from the Prime Minister's 10-day trip to America and Europe recently. Haider Hussain, the chief editor of Asomiya Pratidin, was invited by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA of India) to be the part of 35-member media team accompanying Dr. Manmohan Singh to United States and France. But his visa was delayed and hence Hussain could not board the Prime Minister's flight.

Mentionable that the Prime Minister Dr. Singh had left abroad on Sept. 22, 2008 with a number of engagements like addressing the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly, attending the UN High Level Event on Millennium Development Goals, and meeting the political heads of China, Italy, Namibia, Pakistan, the United Kingdom with the US and France for bilateral relations.

Dejected Hussain later flied back to his home city, Guwahati. Talking to a section of reporters in Guwahati, Hussain asserted, "It was a big humiliation for me. I am shocked that the External Affairs ministry did not forward necessary initiatives when the US Embassy in New Delhi informed that they needed more time to clear my visa application. It only shows how helpless our government is before Washington."

Hussain arrived in New Delhi after he received the letter from MEA and appeared for the visa interview on September 17 at the US Embassy. But his visa was unbelievably delayed. Later the MEA spokesperson, Vishnu Prakash informed Hussain that the US Embassy might take few more weeks to clear his visa.

"Following the incident, for the first time in my life, I have felt that I am a Muslim and a minority. I had no such feelings earlier and it was the humiliation that forced me to rethink on my religious identity. In fact, our government did nothing to expedite my visa procedures," added Hussain.

The local newspapers of Assam flashed the news on September 23 quoting Hussian, where he revealed that he had already sent protest letters to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and also the MEA. The news described that Hussain was deeply hurt at the unfortunate incident and it forced him to think that he was a minority. Few organizations even came out with condemnation against the misconduct of the US government towards Hussain.

However, the working journalists in the State possess different view-points in this respect. They argue that Hussain's visa was delayed by the US Embassy, as Washington might have some reservations against him. It may be because of his Muslim identity or his influence on the banned United Liberation Front of Assam, as the ULFA remained as a terrorist organization till date for the American government.

It is noteworthy that Hussain was chosen as a member of the People's Consultative Group (PCG) by the ULFA leaders to pursue peace talks with New Delhi three years back. The PCG, led by Dr Indira (Mamoni Raisom) Goswami, an award wining Assamese writer, met the Prime Minister Dr Singh with other high level officials three times in the national capital during 2005. Presently the PCG has been pulled out of the peace process with New Delhi, but it continues to exist.

"If you are not given visa by an Embassy in New Delhi, the government of India has nothing to do; because that was the decision of a foreign government. Same thing may happen to any one foreign national, where the Indian Embassy in that country can delay or finally reject his (or her) visa application," argued a Guwahati based senior journalist cum political commentator.

Similarly, many journalist-editors expressed annoyance after Hussain played the minority card. They pointed out that, if he had availed the opportunity to accompany the Prime Minister for the series of important events in the US and France, it would have been an excellent example, where the Indian Foreign ministry paved way for a Muslim editor to take the break.

A Guwahati based Muslim editor also expressed unhappiness over the comment of Hussain and urged him not to take illegitimate advantage of being a Muslim. He commented, "I do not think, a senior editor like Hussain should make such a statement. In case of mine, I have never been ill treated in the society because of my religious identity."

Another major question that arises here, why the editors (occasionally the proprietors) of the State always rush to accompany the President, Prime Minister or other VIPs to foreign countries? The invitation letters for such events naturally come to the editor, but it hardly means that he himself should join the program. Rather the political reporters or correspondents deserve the opportunity, as they could do justice to the assignment.

Om Thanvi, the editor-in-chief of Daily Janasatta, a sister publication of the Indian Express group, raised the issue few weeks back in Guwahati. Delivering the 8th Kamala Saikia memorial lecture on August 9 in the city, Thanvi questioned the editors, why they could not leave such opportunities to his own colleagues.

"If they (editors) are not tracking the international politics, how they dare to cover such important events efficiently and authentically. Accompanying a VVIP to a foreign country should be treated as an important event for news and not necessarily as a status symbol to the editors," Thanvi added.

Speaking to this writer, a senior public relation official in the PMO informed that the invitation letter from his office normally addresses the editor and asks for a representative of the media house to cover the PM's trip.

"We normally want diplomatic correspondents or political reporters to accompany the VVIP for such kinds of important events in abroad. The letter should not be treated as an individual offer to the editor," the officer clarified. He however admitted that his office cannot make choice. It is absolutely an editor's prerogative, he concluded.

"The editors always play safe games. They put deaf ears to the grievances of the reporters (also sub-editors) all the time. Most of the reporter and news desk employees in Assam do not enjoy the satisfactory salaries. They neither enjoy the job security. But when it comes to an opportunity (read a foreign trip), they do not hesitate to grab it. This is really very unfortunate," commented another senior journalist, who used to lead a newspaper employee's union years back in Guwahati.

For records, over 80% journalists and non-journalist newspaper employees in Assam do not get the proper appointment letters even after working for years in the same media house. They have to work with lump sum salaries and mostly without their due benefits like the Provident Fund and leave facilities.

The concerned authority (labour commissioner) and the government remain mute spectators to the grievances of the newspaper employees, not to speak of initiating for the implementation of the statutory wage board. And shamefully, not a single editorial has been published on the issue of deprivation of media persons (under the Indian Labour Act) during the long history of newspapers in the region.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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