Tyranny of distance or sheer indifference? Why we under report North-east India?

The killing of 8 security personnel — seven Assam Rifles soldiers and one jawan of a Territorial Army unit — in Nagaland’s Mon district on Sunday morning made it to India’s television screens almost 12 hours after it occurred, once again demonstrating the low priority one of India’s most important regions occupies in the mind space of our so-called ‘national media.’
As someone who has worked as a journalist both in the North-East and in Delhi (more in the North-East than in Delhi, of course), the feeling of being neglected is familiar. But in previous decades there was at least a valid excuse of poor communication and connectivity in not giving importance to the events and happenings in the North-East. News travelled slowly in those days and the full picture of an encounter or an ambush usually emerged only 24 hours later.
In today’s day and age there is no such fig leaf available. Telephone and mobile connectivity to the seven states of the North-East is as good or bad as other parts of the country. So what explains the absence of North-East news — good, bad or ugly — in the metropolitan media?
Television ratings? Sure.
Lack of information on the region that is far removed from the cities? Definitely.
But more than anything else, it is the lack of the ‘sexy’ news quotient in the events that happen in the region that prevents decision-makers (or managers) in news organisations from giving any substantial space to news from the North-East.
Imagine if eight soldiers had been killed in Kashmir. Or in Chhattisgarh. Television news would have gone over the top, breathless reporting would have given us running commentary on how the security personnel were caught napping, how SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) were not followed and how daring the attack was by the militants/terrorists.
The next day’s newspapers would have had map graphics pinpointing the location, box items listing out previous instances of such ambushes. In short, the killing would have made big headlines.
By contrast, Sunday’s ambush in Mon (where’s that?) district got only perfunctory mention. I doubt if there will be any follow up on how and why it happened. Nearly 24 hours after it occurred, in Delhi we are not aware if the ambush was one-off or is part of a larger game plan?
The details — that initially a water bowser of the Assam Rifles was attacked, the driver and co-driver were killed, followed by an ambush of the Quick Reaction Team (QRT) which went looking for the water bowser led to more killings — have largely gone unreported.
We do not know for instance that the group believed to be responsible for the attack — the NSCN(K) or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Khaplang group — is no longer in a ceasefire mode with the Government of India.
News managers in Delhi will, of course, cite the usual excuses: ‘Oh it happened in a remote part of the region’; ‘No one is interested in what’s happening in those areas’; and the oft-cited one; ‘the tyranny of distance prevents us from focussing on the region.’ I have heard them often enough in the past three decades. But these reasons are no longer valid.
There is no dearth of stringers (part-time reporters) from these states any more. The North-East has a vibrant media presence and there are enough well-informed and responsible journalists in the region to give accurate and timely inputs. But all that is of no use if those in charge of putting out news have zero interest in the region.
The sad truth is our news managers know much more about Houston and Boston than Kohima and Kokrajhar. Most of them will have the latest information about the elections in the UK, but will be clueless on the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and its application in the region.
Worse still, many worthies will travel to the US and Europe to report on Prime Minister Modi’s foreign sojourns but will cite the difficulties of logistics when asked why they don’t cover Modi’s forays into Arunachal Pradesh, a state China lays claim to.
If such big events in the North-East are under-reported, why should anyone expect the killing of seven or eight poor security personnel to get any substantial coverage? As someone who owes a large part of his career to the North-East, the least I could have done is to raise the issue again irrespective of the outcome.