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Season of bans

 

In this country bans are copycat acts. Books are banned, films are banned, fashion-show venues are relocated at the last moment because they offend right wing sensitivities. The latest ban that has caught the public imagination is the ban on cow slaughter by the Maharashtra Government. This has elicited very strong views on social media since beef is a staple for many people in this country. But, it is unheard of for a newspaper to be banned. Democracy comes with some broad parameters. The media in this country is supposed to be free and unfettered but within reasonable limits. If media exceeds its brief or defames any individual, the affected person can take legal recourse. But that person or persons cannot exercise muscle power and prevent the sale and distribution of the newspaper.

The Meghalaya State Youth Congress President has given a call to ban The Shillong Times since Saturday, May 9, on the untenable stance that the paper publishes stale news and that the people of Garo Hills are deprived of news that the people of Shillong are privy to. Curiously the other grouse is that the paper publishes all negative news in the front page and whatever little ‘good news’ is relegated to the back pages. Firstly, it is nobody’s case that Tura is 270 km from Shillong. It takes all of eight hours on a good day to reach Tura from Shillong. The paper is published from Shillong and the work is completed by the wee hours every day. Hence the logistical problems are legitimate. This paper has tried to push in all news of a particular day, especially news from Garo Hills in the paper that is printed in the evening and sent by a special vehicle. But this still does not seem to meet the strange requirements of the Youth Congress workers, many of whom are active on social media and could very well check the e-paper for information they wish to access. To the second point about ‘negative news’ which we believe is the main reason for the ban, this paper like all other media houses are guided by a journalistic code of conduct . No one can tell us what to put in our front pages and what news goes to the back pages. This is a professional matter and is decided jointly by a team in the newsroom. Newspapers are not meant to please anyone. To quote Finley Peter Dunne, “The role of the media is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” If news is uncomfortable to a section of readers especially those holding political office, it means the media is doing its duty. When media persons are too close to the powers that be the fear of news being compromised is real. The Shillong Times has always taken up issues of public interest irrespective of whether that hurts the image of those in the Government. We shall continue to follow this principled trajectory.

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