Manipur: Criminalising Journalism Again, Police Files FIR Against Editors Guild

The Press Club of India and the Indian Women's Press Corps have released statements condemning the FIR.

New Delhi: The Manipur police has filed an FIR against the fact-finding team from the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) that had visited Manipur and published a report on media coverage of the ethnic conflict. An earlier version of the FIR invoked Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act – which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015.

Several times since then, the court has told the police across states to stop charging people under this section, but the police are yet to pay heed to this. Under the annulled section, a person posting “offensive” content online could be imprisoned for up to three years and also fined.

While the now non-existent section has been dropped, along with a section from the Prevention of Corruption Act, the police has invoked sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to promoting enmity between groups, injuring or defiling a place of worship, uttering words with deliberate intent to hurt religious feelings and statements conducing to public mischief, according to the FIR seen by The Wire.

“The state government has filed an FIR against the members of the Editors’ Guild for trying to create more clashes in the state of Manipur,” chief minister N. Biren Singh said.

The FIR names the authors of the report – Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor – and the president of the Editors Guild of India, Seema Mustafa.

The FIR is based on the complaint filed by one Ngangom Sarat, a “social worker” who lives in Imphal West, and refers to one photo caption in the report. The caption, the complaint said, said that smoke was rising from a Kuki home – but it was in fact the home of a forest official. Based on this, the complainant decided that the report is false in entirety and “sponsored by Kuki militants”.

The Editor’s Guild had recognised the error in caption and said on X (formerly Twitter), “We regret the error that crept in at the photo editing stage.”

The Editor’s Guild report had said that several reports on conflict coming out of Manipur were “one-sided”. The media based out of Imphal, the report said, had “transformed into Meitei media”.

“During the ethnic violence, journalists of Manipur wrote one-sided reports. In normal circumstances, they would be cross-checked and monitored by their editors or Chiefs of Bureaus from the local administration, police and security forces. However, this was not possible during the conflict,” the report noted.

“…Thee Meitei media, for that is what Manipur media seemed to have become during the conflict, acted collectively with editors consulting each other and agreeing on a common narrative e.g., agreeing on common language to report an incident, refer ring to certain use of language or even not reporting an event. This the EGI team was told was because they did not want to inflame the already volatile situation further.”

The EGI team also criticised the internet shutdown, saying it had made matters worse and “also affected the media because local news gathered without any communication links was not sufficient to give a balanced view of the situation”.

PCI statement

The Press Club of India has issued a statement against the FIR, saying, “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 utmost attention of the government, such a move by the state government would only make the 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,” the statement continues.

IWPC condemnation

The Indian Women’s Press Corps has also expressed deep concern at the registration of the FIR.

“It is to be noted that EGI expressed regret for the error and also rectified an erroneous caption in its report, which seems to have been the immediate basis for the complaint and FIR,” the statement said.

It also added, “The EGI is a 45 year old non-profit institution aimed to protect press freedom and raise the standards of editorial leadership. It is among the leading apex and independent bodies in the media that stand for press freedom. Many of its founding stalwarts were those who stood against the Emergency. The EGI has consistently stood for the rights of the media. The registration of a FIR against such a body ill behoves the largest democracy in the world.”

This is the second fact-finding team that has seen legal action after publishing a report on Manipur. In July, a case was registered against Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu and Deeksha Dwivedi, who were part of the National Federation of Indian Women’s team in Manipur and had said in their report that Manipur was seeing “state-sponsored violence”. Before that, a leading academic and two Kuki activists were summoned by an Imphal court in cases filed by Meitei activists who claimed that statements made by them in interviews with The Wire had “inflamed communal passions”.

Manipur Editors’ Guild distances itself

The Editors’ Guild Manipur has distances itself from the EGI and said while it had nothing to do with the police complaint, the EGM had problems with the EGI’s reports and had expressed those. “We [EGM and the All Manipur Working Journalist Union] have pointed out some inaccuracies of the facts on the ground used in the report to come to what we believe is a biased opinion,” EGM secretary general Yumnam Rupachandra told The Wire.

The two Guilds are in talks about the report, Rupachandra said, but the EGM has requested that the EGI report in its current form be removed from the public domain.