Sikkim hopes to buck that trend
Byline: P.D. Rai
On 1st December 2018, at the Press Club of Sikkim in Gangtok we launched the new daily, Gangtok Times. For about a decade from 1994 till 2004, GT as it was known, was in a tabloid and a weekly newspaper. It was run and published by my father, Chandra Das Rai. He is a veteran political analyst and a celebrated and much feted journalist.
Whilst talking about the reasons for bringing back the GT as a broadsheet daily I said that we needed to think about the freedom of the Press in Sikkim. In fact, I reiterated that unlike in New Delhi where we see many papers and TV channels totally appropriated by big business, the papers here are owned by people who care for ‘news’ as it happens and ‘views’ expressed in the interest of the people and our society. This must continue if we want to build a strong and vibrant Sikkimese society. After all, media is the fourth pillar of democracy.
When we reflect on this and juxtapose it on the historical timeline of 24 years then we have to start with the terrifying time that the Press had under the Bhandari regime. The scars of that are still fresh. Remember the time when the owner of the JanpathSamaachaar was picked up by the Sikkim police in Siliguri and taken into custody and jailed in Sikkim. That was a time when media houses were threatened with dire consequences. It was easy to do so with a compliant police force and no other way to disseminate such action as news to the general public. There are many more stories, but we need not need to go into them at this point.
Today, we breathe and live with a free press and journalists are respected. In fact, the Chief Minister, Pawan Chamling has announced a pension for journalists. This is a great move from the Government. It is in alignment with the Universal Basic Income concept. Journalists normally fall prey to economic misfortune and some may even ‘sell’ their hard-fought freedoms. Now with some relief, which might be described by some as meagre, there is still hope.
Sikkim is an oasis of peace. The present Government has ensured that. It is a border state, but it also shows the sagacity of the present dispensation. Need we remind anyone that it is of utmost importance that peace in a border state is absolutely a strategic value and one that anyone in the army will tell you so. Hence, the Government is transparent and would not do any harm to anyone who is giving valuable feedback through the newspapers and other media. However, it is imperative that all the media houses heed to the tenets of good and responsible journalism. It cannot be shrill and negative but needs to be based on solid evidence.
The opposition parties get their due press coverage, and some might even criticise saying they are getting more than their due in terms of media space. Many editors of newspapers have told me in confidence that it is a way in which it must sell its papers. So, circulation increases if anti-establishment news finds space. We have seen many papers resort to this tactic.
But then we also need to remind them that the stories of the ruling dispensation need to find equal space if not more. This is also a way of ensuring that there is value that the reader will find. We find that the spokespersons of parties are not consulted when a journalist gets a story from one party or the other. It might help to print both sides of the story immediately rather than wait for clarification through a press release the next day. This would be so much more valuable to the reader.
However, these are thoughts on a day when we celebrate the 24 years of great governance of the Chamling led Government. The Chief Minister himself has been at the forefront of revival and advancement of literature and other intellectual pursuits. It is this part of his persona that values the ordinary reporter and journalist. May his tribe increase.