Web Based Media Channels Mushrooming in Assam as Election Comes Closer

Wednesday, 12 August 2020


Web Based Media Channels Mushrooming in Assam as Election Comes Closer

Swapnil Bharali | June 09, 2020 17:54 hrs

The number of web based news media channels in Assam has been mushrooming lately as the state assembly elections are just a few months away. 

According to an estimate, there are over 100 pages on Facebook and other social media channels from Assam positioned as media organisations and are disseminating information of all kinds. Almost all of them do not have any kind of license or approval from any authority to run a media organisation. Some of these outlets have created a web-based portal for publishing news content. 

However, most of them are operating as merely social media handles on various platforms. 

In an infodemic era, when the menace of fake news is at an all time high, most of these so-called media outlets go unregulated. The state government has claimed that it is planning to regulate them only after it receives the guidelines regarding the same from the Centre. 

Talking to G Plus, the media advisor to the chief minister of Assam, Hrishikesh Goswami said, “We know that all (news portals) are not genuine. People are opening up channels just sitting at home and many are spreading fake news. It will be regulated once we have the guidelines from the Centre.”  

Needless to say, the media industry has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in a number of layoffs; salary cuts have been reported in many organisations across the country. 

In Assam too, many news organisations have reportedly laid off employees and shut down operations. But amidst this chaos in the industry, there are a number of news portals coming up in the state. 

Media industry experts expressed that before every election in Assam many miniscule “media houses” come up which are directly or indirectly funded by politicians. 

After the advent of social media, the process has become further easy as the cost of production and dissemination of news is much lesser compared to electronic or print media houses. 

The social media head of a prominent print and digital publication in Assam, talking to G Plus said, “You just need a computer and an internet connection to start a new media channel. There is no paper work required.” 

He also said that even if a website is not in place, people are running news channels using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. 

“This of course comes with its own problems of disseminating incorrect information, amateur news content and plagiarism. 

A lot of these ‘self regulated’ media organizations buy a couple of equipments and walk into press conferences and meetings because the validation of attendants at these meetings are also not in place in most cases,” he added. 

It is to be mentioned that plagiarism in several countries is a punishable offence and can attract hefty penalties. 

However, by media standards, plagiarism is most often dealt with the ‘offender’ resigning from their posts. The punishment and prevention of plagiarism needs to be clearly outlined.

It needs to be mentioned that before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a news portal floated in Nagaland just for a few days did a story against a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader who had visited Nagaland. Very soon the news portal was shut down and the news was tagged “fake.” 

But till date, it has not been found who the scribe was who had written the particular story. 

Similarly, many pieces of fake news are uploaded and targeted to go viral, causing unrest in the society. 

Talking to G Plus, the general secretary of Guwahati Press Club, Sanjoy Roy said, “I think it’s high time for the government to devise a mechanism to regulate the web news portals which are mushrooming thick and fast.” He further said that in the absence of any guidelines or regulation specific to news portals and their operation, it is only encouraging the culture of paid news in the country. 

Like print and electronic media, the accountability quotient seems to be missing when it comes to most of the digital news platforms, Roy said. 

A retired IAS officer from Dispur, talking to G Plus, explained that the regulation on social media is possible only after the Centre decides the framework of the process. It is a huge task, he said. 

The information and broadcasting ministry (MIB) had formed a committee with representatives from various ministries to draft regulations for digital media companies in 2018. 

Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) is a statutory body of the information and broadcasting ministry of the government of India for the registration of publications such as newspapers and magazines, which regulates and monitors their printing and publication based on the PRB Act and the Registration of Newspapers (Central) Rules, 1956.

In 2019, the central government had proposed a bill to regulate social media.

The draft Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2019, seeks to replace the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867, that governs the print and publishing industry in the country. 

The retired bureaucrat said that once the bill which at present is under discussion, is passed in the Parliament, the regulations can be expected to kick in. 

But till the regulations are implemented, many more news portals, especially in Assam, can be expected to come up as the assembly elections are in 2021.

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