Journalism and ‘a narrative of decline’

The changing context of Naga media and its emerging new conditions highlights the critical need for it to constructively engage with what Dr Henrik Örnebring, Professor of Media and Communications, Karlstad University called ‘a narrative of decline’ in journalism. 

In his working paper, The Two Professionalisms of Journalism, Dr. Örnebring identifies two broad reasons for the decline of journalism. One reason that journalism is declining is because journalists themselves are increasingly ignoring their professional role, along with having a weakened commitment to the journalistic profession. The other reason says that journalistic professionalism is under assault from the outside, as it is continuously being constructed by profit-hungry media corporations, government spin doctors, the convergence of media technologies [social media], and so on. The first points to internal factors in which journalists are collectively responsible for the decline of their profession. The second is due to external factors where the decline is caused by pressures that originate from outside of the field of journalism as a professional collective.

Given the creative tension between the internal and external factors, developing an acute sense of awareness and understanding is essential in the fluid and the media’s ever-changing working conditions and situation. For instance, in this age of commercialization, the media needs to address the competing notions of professionalism: organizational professionalism or occupational professional; to negotiate journalism between business and vocation; and to re-define the social role of the media. This is critical given the fast-changing landscape of media in Nagaland.  

For many years, mass communication media in the Naga context has primarily been the radio and the newspaper. This has undergone huge transitions with the online news portals and digital media platforms. The COVID-19 induced lockdowns rapidly fast-forwarded the transition process which dramatically increased digital content creators to focus on sharing news and information. While the growing digital media outlets have contributed to democratizing news, at the same time its increasing number has also induced a condition of news-fatigue. Similarly, the lines between information, opinion, and news have blurred. At the same time, instances of disinformation and unchecked information have increased, thereby raising questions of credibility and authenticity. An emerging concern in Nagaland is the alleged practice of some digital platforms levying monetary charges to report events and functions. This directly undermines the independent spirit of a free press. Is this contributing to the narrative of decline in journalism in the Naga context? These emerging trends are prompting and encouraging the press fraternity in Nagaland to self-reflect and re-invent itself. 

With its vast and instantaneous reach, the digital media platform is changing the definition of news, and more importantly influencing the social discourse, as well as transforming society. The digital media platforms, when used ethically and responsibly, can powerfully communicate with vast potential to strengthen and expand democratic values and practices. However, this means arresting the narrative of decline and recovering basic journalistic ethics and standards in Nagaland. Newspapers not only have a moral and social obligation, but are legally bound as well. They are accountable to readers and are required to adhere to the Press Council of India ethics guideline. Likewise, digital media platforms in Nagaland need to be accountable and to ensure that they are respecting journalistic ethics. 

The intention and design to recover from the narrative of decline needs to come from a place that empowers the media to effectively assume its role as the fourth pillar in achieving free, fair and a genuine democracy. This will require a new imagination and a clear political will to work towards creating a historical opportunity in the midst of the interplay of contradictions where media is constantly in a tango between rights and restrictions. While principles and values of freedom of speech and expression and the free press are universal, their applications are very contextual and are essentially shaped by a people’s history, geography, culture and politics. Given the dialectical relationship that mass media shares with these four core elements of history, geography, culture and politics, its application varies from case to case. This highlights the pressing need to engage in an honest reflection on the broader dilemma around stories, who writes the stories and for whom! 

With this in mind, many questions need to be asked:  Who is telling the stories and from whose perspectives? Are these stories empowering, or do they confine the people to existing stereotypes? Are people objects or subjects of these stories? How is truth portrayed through the media? Is it evidence based? Is there one truth or many truths which are understood differently and from whose perspectives? The question of truth is inevitably linked to the interplay of how the freedom of the press is exercised and the limitations that come along with this freedom.

The media in Nagaland State while functioning under extremely challenging conditions must remember to evolve and reinvent itself.