New Delhi: The executive committee of the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) released a statement on Tuesday (September 5) condemning the Manipur police’s first information reports (FIRs) against its members. A day later it was reported that it has moved the Supreme Court against the FIRs.
Manipur police filed FIRs against the EGI’s president, Seema Mustafa, as well as three other members – Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor – who constituted a fact-finding team that visited the state to study media reportage of its ethnic violence.
“The Guild 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 [Indian Penal Code],” EGI’s executive committee said in a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter).
It also said it was “further shocked by the intimidatory statements made by the chief minister of Manipur, Mr N. Biren Singh, in response to the report.”
The FIR is based on a complaint filed by one Ngangom Sarat, a “social worker” who lives in Imphal West, and refers to a photo caption in the fact-finding team’s report.
Sarat said the caption claimed that smoke was rising from a Kuki home when in fact it was the home of a forest official. Based on this, Sarat decided that the report was false in entirety and “sponsored by Kuki militants”.
EGI acknowledged the error and uploaded a corrected version of its report.
On Monday (September 4), Biren Singh told the media that the FIRs were filed because EGI staff were “trying to create more clashes in the state of Manipur”.
Singh is viewed by many as acting in a partisan manner favourable to the Meitei community, and EGI’s fact-finding report reflects that.
“There are clear indications that the leadership of the state became partisan during the conflict. It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state,” its report said.
It continued: “The net result is that the executive, its instruments (the police and other security forces of the state) and the bureaucracy are today divided along ethnic lines. There is a Meitei government, Meitei police and Meitei bureaucracy in Imphal and the tribal people living in the hills have no faith in them.”
“Some would say the CM’s partisan actions had in fact pushed the state into turmoil,” the report says.
The team also found that the ban on internet services in the state drove the media to rely on the government’s narrative of the conflict.
“This narrative under the N. Biren Singh dispensation became a narrow ethnic one playing up to the biases of the majority Meitei community,” it said in its report.
EGI’s executive council pointed out in its statement that Singh’s response to its report contradicted India’s projection of itself as a leading democracy, and urged the Manipur government to close the FIRs.
“…The chief minister’s labelling of the journalists’ body [the EGI] as “anti-state” and “anti-national” is deeply disturbing, especially given the way the Union Government has emphasised the country’s democratic credentials as well as the spirit of freedom of speech at the global stage for the upcoming G20 summit,” it said.
Its statement has been reproduced in full below.
September 5, 2023
The Editors Guild of Indis is disturbed by the registration of First Information Reports (FIRs) by the Manipur Police against the President of the Guild as well as the members of the fact- finding team that had visited Manipur to study and document media’s coverage of ethnic clashes in the state. The Guild is further shocked by the intimidatory statements made by the Chief Muster of Manipur, Mr. N Biren Singh, in response to the 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 internet shut down. 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 operating in Manipur
The report was released on September 2, 2023.
The Guild 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.
However, the Chief Minister’s labelling of the journalists body as “anti-State” and “anti-national” is deeply disturbing, especially given the way the Union Government has emphasised the country’s democratic credentials as well as the spirit of freedom of speech at the global stage for the upcoming G20 summit.
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.
Editors’ Guild of India
Note: This report has been updated with news of the Guild moving SC.