Of scam, crusade and media outburst

The mainstream media in Assam (or India) today face enormous credibility crisis, but has it turned such low that a young State civil service officer could out-rightly slam the ‘men in the medium’ with the help of alternate media? Is it the beginning of the end for media, particularly the free-to-air news channels in Assam or one more example to reckon with the future course of broader journalism?

This and many more questions are being raised by the professional journalists of the State after witnessing a video statement posted on Facebook by Ramanuj Hazarika, a 2015 batch Assam civil service officer, who declared that he had lost his respect for ‘Assamese media’ and claimed that he is ‘not amongst those who will keep quiet’ and digest the media’s slander silently.

It all started with a small news item that Hazarika, the then election officer and executive magistrate of Dhemaji district in eastern Assam, had resigned from his post. The news, mostly telecast by local (read Assamese) television channels, also added Hazarika took the decision to prepare for the next Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations.

Until this point it was fine, but one or two news channels included few more words that Hazarika’s resignation at the time of astounding ‘cash for job’ scam under Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) run examinations carried significance (read apprehension) as over 25 young Assam Civil Service (ACS), Assam Police Service (APS) and few allied service officers who had cleared the recent APSC examinations) are still in the government custody for probing their selection processes.

Of course, an ACS officer can reign and prepares for a better opportunity by virtue of his democratic rights in the country. So when Hazarika resigned on 23 November 2017, it could (should) have been a simple news item for media outlets. But the speculation raised by a section of television reporters made the issue murkier, and suspicion grew if Hazarika (like all those tainted civil servants) tried to escape the anti-corruption police actions.

Speculations were cropped up primarily for two reasons. First, the public opinions in Assam today are today in favour of scanning all the answer-scripts of APSC run examinations under the chairmanship of Rakesh Kumar Paul (who is also facing trials after arrest) since 2015. Secondly, one may generously question why an ACS officer should resign from his job for preparing the UPSC examinations (meaning that he could have applied for a longer leave).

It may be noted that hundreds of Assam government officials were arrested on corruption charges soon after the Bhartiya Janata Party-led government took power at Dispur by May 2016 under the leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal, who maintains in his repeated public statements that the authority would not compromise with any kind of corruption. Even Hazarika also supported the crusade against corruption and insisted on a free & fair investigation process to unearth the truth in the APSC scam. In his Facebook statement, he even proposed for a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of the Supreme Court to proceed further on identifying the corrupt practices. He also did not forget to mention about his bright academic career since his childhood in his statement.

According to his own declaration, Hazarika was nurtured by his mother (a teacher by profession) after his father’s untimely demise and passed the 10+2 standard examinations with the first ten positions in the State. He cleared the graduation in Political Science from Hindu College under Delhi University and completed his Master’s and M Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Expressing anger over the media, Hazarika stated that he would approach the court against the speculative & defamatory news items soon after consultations with his friends from the legal fraternity. Proclaimed that he had no respect for the media because of all cheap contents that turned the media outlets into circus groups, Hazarika also dared to prove him guilty (in APSC cash for job scam). Nevertheless, Hazarika asserted that he would not leave the State to evade police actions.

The northeast Indian State of Assam today supports over 25 morning daily newspapers with six satellite news channels and few FM radio outlets catering the rational need of regional news contents for millions of reader-audience-viewers. The electronic media reached to the alienated region two decades back, but the print journalism has a history of over 170 years in Assam.

“There is nothing unusual in resigning from a job anytime, and hence the local media should have reported the matter judiciously,” said Rupam Barua, a senior journalist and president of Journalists’ Forum Assam. He, however, admitted that the reaction of Hazarika over the development was over voluminous.

Appreciating Hazarika for his brave statement, Barua pointed out that a meritorious (read carrying good marks in examinations) certificate does not always ensure that the particular individual remains honest all along his/her life or be a good human being to contribute substantially for the society and the nation. Only the combination of both merit and honesty makes a man all-time great, affirmed Barua.

Meanwhile, urging the news channels to restrain over reporting on sensitive issues, the Electronic Media Forum Assam expressed dismay at the way Hazarika slammed the media as a whole. The forum in a statement argued that the investigation process to identify all the tainted State civil service officers is still on and hence he ‘should wait for the logical (legal) conclusion of APSC cash for job scam’ before launching a crusade against the media.

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria

The writer is a northeast India based journalist.
Nava Thakuria
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