A decade in journalism

Monday Musing

[ Amar Sangno ]

As 2021 is dragging its feet towards its fag end, yours truly has scribbled down his personal experience in journalism for the last one decade. The statutory warning is, this account may reopen old wounds, which may not go down well with the individuals involved in the situation. Nonetheless, the past is history.

To see my own name printed in a newspaper or a magazine, especially in a reputed daily, had always been my childhood dream. Clueless about journalism and journalistic ethics, I started living my journalism dream when my article titled ‘In the realms of Sarwos and the hunters’ was published in The Sentinel Arunachal in 2009.

The article was about the Takin hunters of Lada circle in East Kameng district who had strayed and gone missing while on an expedition. The family members believed that whoever went missing were abducted or avenged by Sarwos (mythical Takin herders).

I had written that article while serving as an assistant teacher at the government residential school in Pio, a remote Puroik village located on the bank of the Pachuk river in Lada administrative circle.

When I embarked on my professional career, the state’s print media was at its peak. Veteran journalist Pradeep Kumar Behera was exuberant and omnipresent in those days, like Manoj Singh is nowadays.

In my formative years, I got an opportunity to work alongside many established journalists. One of them was late VR Ravindran, the most principled and ethical journalist of his time (though he belonged to the old school of journalism).

Fire-in-the-belly year

The first year (2010) after being appointed as a staff reporter at The Sentinel Arunachal was my fire-in-the-belly year. It was a lifetime’s privilege and opportunity to learn journalism from prolific journalist and editor Rup Jyoti Pater, who was then consulting editor of The Sentinel Arunachal. Thanks to Jarpum Gamlin, the editor and publisher of The Sentinel Arunachal, for his guidance and push-factor energy.

From dusk to dawn, running around on a 150 Bajaj Pulsar bike in search of information and ferreting out facts for exclusive stories, I reckoned that I wore my passion for journalism on my sleeve. Exclusive stories were a priority because the management offered Rs 200 per story, apart from the fixed Rs 7,000 salary.

Just after the tragic death of chief minister Dorjee Khandu on 30 April, 2011 in a helicopter crash, a new political situation overshadowed the state capital. Late Jarbom Gamlin became the new chief minister on 5 May, 2011, and Pradeep Thakur’s controversial remark on the Nyishi community, published in The Times of India portal on 4 May, 2011, led to a series of violent agitations led by the All Nyishi Students’ Union (ANSU), terming the remark derogatory. The ANSU had a press conference, demanding that the Jarbom Gamlin government give justice to the Nyishi community by bringing Pradeep Thakur to Itanagar.

The report on the press conference wasn’t published by the local newspapers due to some miscommunication, which angered the ANSU, resulting in coordinated attacks on media houses in Itanagar. The offices of the Arunachal Front and the Press Trust of India were ransacked on 8 May, 2011, forcing the Arunachal Front office to shut down for months.

Pradeep Kumar Behera, the then editor of the Arunachal Front, had to take shelter in incumbent Arunachal Press Club President Dodum Yangfo’s rented house for nearly a week as many Nyishi youths had mistaken Pradeep Kumar Behera as Pradeep Thakur of the ToI.

The attacks on media houses were justified by the people, at a time when community sentiment was projected as being bigger than press freedom. Later, I realized that the whole movement over Nyishi dignity had a political ambition to oust Gamlin’s government, and it did so successfully.

When my own community was celebrating the ascent of Nabam Tuki as the first Nyishi chief minister of the state, my journalism career was in a limbo, as the political situation, which almost turned into communal violence, forced The Sentinel Arunachal to shut down for months.

Tryst with three 15s

Amidst the gloomy uncertainty, I got a call from my senior Bengia Ajum, inquiring if I wanted to join The Arunachal Times. Fearing redundancy, I readily jumped in to grab the opportunity and joined The Arunachal Times on 15 November, 2011. I have successfully pushed through 10 years in the profession with the daily, been through many ups and downs.

The Arunachal Times as a team had been through the darkest phases to joyous moments. However, there are memorable moments which left an indelible mark in my memories, the moments I cherish and the moments that still haunt me.

Delighted by my new salary of Rs 13,000 in the appointment letter, I came to the office on 15 November. I was greeted by the staff colleagues as if were an old staffer. On the very first day in office, I became a family member.

Five months of great working atmosphere suddenly turned unsafe and our office became the most targeted one for reasons unknown. On 15 April, 2012, while I was working at the desk along with my senior colleagues, ten unidentified masked men barged into our news section and started smashing the desktop computers without uttering a single word.

It left the entire office shocked because the attackers were unidentified and so was their objective. The next day, condemnations started pouring in from various organizations, demanding that the authority arrest the culprits at the earliest. What caught my attention was a vitriolic comment from former minister late TC Teli, who termed the assault on media “its own creation.” Late TC Teli had accused the media of being hypocritical and sycophantic. I quote: “My attention is drawn to the attack on media houses time and again. It is said one hand cannot clap and every action has equal and opposite reaction.”

Even before the feeling of insecurity among the staff dissipated from the office, our Deputy Editor Tongam Rina was shot at in front of office gate on 15 July, 2012. When I and Joseph ran towards the gate after hearing the gunshot, we found our deputy editor lying at the office gate, and the gunsmoke still swirling in the air. We hurled her into my Hyundai Santro car and drove to Rama Krishna Mission Hospital in three minutes.

Those three minutes were the most crucial minutes of my life. The incident not only shocked her family but the entire Arunachal Times family. The incident deeply affected me as I had gone through post traumatic treatment in New Delhi, which I successfully overcame. Many conspiracy theories came out regarding the objective of the perpetrators targeting the most courageous journalist in the state.

The Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists and the Arunachal Press Club led a media campaign against the then chief minister Nabam Tuki’s government by publishing the number of days that had passed without the culprits being arrested. Under pressure, the Tuki government had to issue arms licences to 10 journalists; it was perhaps the first state government in India or the world that issued en masse arms licences to media persons.

Today, as social media is growing stronger every day, threats to the traditional media have been diminished significantly. Intractable issues like fear of being chucked out unceremoniously, the discouraging attitude of media house owners like low wage and non-payment of salary are forcing working journalists to run their own social media channels, thus creating a paradigm shift in journalism.

The quality of journalism is ebbing and ethics are eroding. The media houses often sidetrack themselves from their responsibilities, which becomes a major challenge in the modern times. Let’s hope for a congenial atmosphere in terms of media economy and responsibilities in the days to come.