Department of MCJ, Tezpur University observes National Press Day, 2020

The Department of Mass Communication and Journalism (MCJ), Tezpur University observed the National Press Day (NPD) via online mode on 16 November 2020. This year the Press Council of India (PCI) has decided on the theme - Role of media during the covid-19 pandemic and its impact of media. Sao, in keeping with it, the Department organized a very lively discussion programme with two eminent media persons of the country - A.S. Paneerselvan, Readers’ Editor of The Hindu (Chennai), and Ammu Joseph, Independent Journalist and Author (Bengaluru). About a 100 enthusiastic participants including department’s students, practicing media professionals, media educators etc. were present throughout the discussion. In the introductory speech, the convenor of the programme, Prof. Abhijit Bora, said that the role of the journalists, during the pandemic was not at all less than the medical practitioners and other COVID-19 warriors. He added that journalists were lacking behind even in terms of PPE Kits, but they never let their problems affect the presentation of news. By looking at what has happened over these months, it is important to think about the future. During the Welcome address, Prof. Joya Chakraborty, Head of the Department expressed her heartfelt thanks to the esteemed guests, patron of the programme, Vice Chancellor and respected media educators and participants or making the programme a success. She added that the pandemic has not only affected media practise but also Media Education and laid down the problems that the Department is facing in providing the hands-on experience to the students, which the Department emphasises a lot. Dr Chakraborty added that it was a great opportunity to host both the guests and was optimistic about the entire discussion to be a beautiful learning opportunity. The Inaugural address was delivered by Prof. V.K. Jain, Vice-Chancellor of Tezpur University. After welcoming both the guests, Professor Jain spoke about the importance of ethical reporting and shared his thoughts on journalism that leads to greater accountability and endures welfare of the people. In this regard, he added that there is an information explosion going on and it includes information of all sorts - True or False; clouded by political lineages and impacts of other persons making it biased. He said that apart from the journalists, it is also the responsibility of the citizens to be vigilant and with arise of citizen journalism, it is important that one always adhered to ethical norms. At 3: 24 PM, Dr Anjuman Borah, the moderator invited AS Paneerselvan to deliver his talk on Invited speaker AS Paneerselvan started his speech with a very clear observation that he wanted to share- that the ethical deficit of media predates COVID-19. It is a ‘legacy’ that is being carried since the last two-three decades. He said that it will be quite wrong to make COVID-19, the reasons for all the problems in the media. The topic for his speech was - Maintaining journalistic integrity – view from the other side. Secondly, in the core part of his discussion, Mr Paneersevan laid down criticism of some terms in the present-day context which are highly associated with media like ‘multi-tasking’. He said that it is nothing else but a euphemism to exploit somebody to do more. A critic of multitasking in media, The eminenbt journalist said that for good journalism to happen, what is essential is not multi-tasking or financial strength but the warmth in the environment. He also emphasized upon financial stress faced by the media persons with the pressure of deadlines that the organisations are giving to its journalists now. With hourly deadlines, one is left with just 30 minutes of research and rest for writing, which put the young journalists in huge pressure. In their times from having one deadline a day, to currently 13-14, this is another term that remains less talked about but is crucial to understand. He said that it is high time, that the media industries unpack these market generated terms. Along with paid news, misanthropy, misogyny, gender injustice, the media being specifically industry-specific, a multi-tasking agency characterised with the lack of domain exposure is a big problem in the current day. He reflected back on the time when The Hindu had Rural Affairs Editor P. Sainath, a Macroeconomics expert, a banking expert and so on. There were fixed cricket writers and a huge diplomatic team working solely for the newspaper without the hopes of becoming ambassadors to countries or to work for the BCCI (Board for Cricket Control in India). This lack of domain expertise in the current time had reduced the essential ‘critical distance’ and its functioning. The Reader’s Editor added that ‘Silicon Valley’ being the giant source from where all the information flow was the big problem. It has resulted in partitioning the digital era, before and after 2012 as the era of digital empowerment and digital disruption respectively. This centralization of web pretends to give more power to the citizens, but it gives more power to the state and not the citizens. AS Paneerselvan added that from being a harbinger of a public good, what matters more nowadays for media organisations is sustainability, which makes both ‘media industry’ and ‘journalism’ as nearly wedded terms. The earlier technological intervention helped to grow more in a positive sense but now the situation has become contrary. We need to filter out which of these changes are positive and for our good and which of them lead to mere algorithm-driven discrimination. An algorithm determines a trend and you cannot offer not to cover something which is trending for nearly a day and a half. With this tyranny of algorithm entering the newsroom, write-ups by an expert on the field get fewer views than a write up by someone who is not at all into it. (He gave an example of write up by S. Muralitharan receiving less viewership than Chetan Bhagat) Today the media ignores public interest and caters to what the public is interested in. And this has made the media organisation avoid many matters of public interest. It also helps them in the reduction of their cost or expenditure on a story. The idea of immersive journalism has been largely impacted by the current media trends where one need to submit a story in an hour. Paneerselvan added, “People are much kinder to media than media is to people.” Criticizing the present performance of Prasar Bharati, the journalist says that the organisations are now ready to pay money to the career, but not the content. COVID-19 is an added pressure, not the reason for entire problems. Following Panneerselvan’s speech, Ammu Joseph took the podium with the topic – The media, pandemic and comorbidities. In her short talk, the Independent Journalist was critical of the role of Press Council of India (PCI). Starting her talk by recollecting memories of her older associations with the University, she reflected on many unfortunate comorbidities going on due to the pandemic. She began by saying that this day was observed because of the establishment of the PCI but she has been critical of the way this organization had dealt with these comorbidities. She said that the organisation has remained silent on many matters where it should have been vocal and had never been as effective as an institution. She also said that it lacked proper representation, as its composition has merely two female members out of eight and both of them are not much related to the field of media professionalism. The body even lacks proper regional representation with not having any representative from many regions including the North-East region of India. While speaking of the comorbidities, she said that the very first comorbidity is that of joblessness. Nearly thousands of journalists lost their jobs; the salaries were cut or not paid at all. Even today the profession which was financially hurt by the pandemic remained on shaky ground. She said that PCI did not even give a public note when India’s Press Freedom Index fell more than the last time making it rank down 142nd out of 180 countries. Citing many reports, she laid down many statistics that were not bringing a much positive result for the media scenario in the country. Till June 2020 about 55 journalists in the country, during the pandemic has faced arrest, FIRs, summons and even physical assaults. Uttar Pradesh ranks 1st followed by Jammu and Kashmir in this list. But in spite of such attacks on the journalists and the freedom of journalists, the PCI remained silent on this matter. She also gave example on the death of Pratidin Times’ journalist Parag Bhuyan just a few day before this occasion, on which too, the PCI did not speak at all. She was also critical of the PCI again, who did not stand for its journalists, who are waiting to be heard and has been summoned for many dubious matters. And in regard to the recent decision by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to regulate the Online platforms for news and other content providers like the OTT platforms, she believed that the PCI should give a clear instruction or a public notice. While speaking on the comorbidities, she laid down a very important point that from the PCI’s side, there has been no documentation of the safety issues that journalists have been facing, this pandemic. Thus, the eminent media persons wanted the PCI to re-examine its role and ensure the safety and security of media persons as well as sustainability of news-agencies. Lastly, she added that there has been very less documentation on Women’s perspective in the news media in regard to the pandemic. She said the absence of women’s’ perspective in this entire discussion means women have received less preference and carry low influence in the field, making them further marginalised. She gave a gender breakdown of representation of women in breaking news where 19% of women were shown and in the case of men, the same was 77% of the representation. After the speech were over, a lively question-answer session followed moderated by anchor Dr Anjuman Borah, Assistant Professor of the Department. Questions were asked by participants including media educators, journalists, students from University of Hyderabad, Mizoram University, Tezpur University and so on. The session dealt with many important questions in regard to having expertise-based writers, representation of North-East region, analysis of business units of media organisations and so on. After the Q&A session, Professor Sunil Kanta Behera, the session Chair and Professor of the Eminence of the host department, summed up the entire discussion by both the resource persons guests and the Vice Chancellors. While summing up the discussion, Professor Behera also expressed his opinions on PCI’s performance and suggestions in this regard. He thanked the Vice-Chancellor for raising another important issue – “Freedom versus Spread of Half-truth.” Followed with Professor Behera’s summary of the deliberations, Professor Abhijit Bora, the Convenor of the session presented the Vote of Thanks to the guest speakers- Ammu Joseph and AS Paneerselvan and was optimistic about having both the eminent personalities in the department for a face to face interaction. He thanked the Vice-Chancellor for his presence, his colleagues from the department and other media educators present there. He also thanked all the students of the Department of MCJ, Tezpur University as well as students from other Universities for being present and making the entire event a successful one. Students’ feedback: The event on National Press Day by our Department was quite interactive and lively, an enriching experience with A.S. Paneerselvan and Ammu Joseph which is beyond the boundaries of textbook. The discussion opened up our perspectives to new horizons in the field of media and journalism. The deliberations on issues of representation relating to mainland media and media in Northeast Media India was one that really clicked with us. The students are grateful to the department for organising this event which was informative and educational at the same time and no doubt will be very beneficial for us as people of media, in the future. -Zeenat Mazid Student, Dept of Mass communication and Journalism, Tezpur University Interacting directly with the industry experts helped us understand the media industry beyond the limited scope of our textbooks. We could receive a lot of serious inputs which are not possible within the scope of the classroom texts. - Akanshya Bhagabati, MA MCJ , TU