Journalist associations and civil rights bodies across India have condemned the filing of an FIR against the Editors Guild of India president and three members of its fact-finding committee that had visited Manipur to study and document media coverage of the ethnic violence in the state.
Apart from the Editors Guild, The Press Club of India Delhi, the Delhi Union of Journalists, the Mumbai Press Club, the Foundation for Media Professionals, the Digipub News India Foundation, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and the Indian Women Press Corps (IWPC) among others have spoken against the Manipur government over the FIR.
The Manipur Police had filed the FIR against the said persons for allegedly promoting enmity between two communities, among other charges. Chief Minister N Biren Singh said the guild’s members were “trying to create more clashes in the state of Manipur” and had “come to pour venom”.
Press Club of India president Umakant Lakhera and secretary general Vinay Kumar said the issue revolves around the role of the media, and it is evident the Editor’s guild did a commendable job by sending a fact-finding team to check the ground situation and information.
“This is a strong-arm tactic by the state government, which amounts to intimidation of the apex media body of the country. At a time when violence-marred Manipur needs the utmost attention of the government, such a move by the state government would only make matters worse and would be seen as a deliberate attempt to suppress the truth. It is a case of shooting the messenger rather than taking measures to restore peace in the state. We demand that the FIR against EGI President and the three members be withdrawn immediately,” the Press Club said.
In its report on the media coverage of the ethnic violence in Manipur, the EGI said journalists in the state wrote one-sided reports, the internet ban impacted their ability to communicate with each other and the state government played a partisan role in the ethnic conflict.
The three-member fact-finding team comprising EGI members Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor.
The IWPC said the FIR ill-behoves the largest democracy in the world. “The IWPC demands and urges the Manipur government to quash the charges more so when the erroneous caption has been removed from the report,” it said.
The Editors Guild said it is disturbed by the registration of FIRs and shocked by the alleged ‘intimidatory’ statements made by the chief minister of Manipur N Biren Singh in response to its report.
“The Guild had received several representations from civil society as well as the Indian Army raising concerns that the media in Manipur was playing a partisan role in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the majority Meitei community and the Kuki-Chin minority. The Guild had sent a three-member team to Manipur to examine the media’s reportage in the state as well as the effects of the internet shutdown. The team met a cross-section of reporters, editors, representatives of the Editors Guild of Manipur, All Manipur Working Journalists Union, civil society activists, public intellectuals, women affected by the violence, tribal spokespersons and the representatives of the security forces,” it said
The report was released on September 2, 2023.
The Guild says it is extremely disturbed that rather than respond to the concerns raised in the report in a meaningful way, the state government has registered FIRs invoking multiple provisions of the IPC. “The Guild has already acknowledged and corrected an error that was pointed out regarding a photo caption, and we remain open to further discussion.”
“The Guild would also like to reiterate that the underlying idea of the report was to enable introspection and reflection on the media’s conduct in such a sensitive situation. The Guild urges the state government to close the FIRs.”