New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India, facing a first information report filed by the Manipur Police against it over a fact-finding report, told the Supreme Court that it visited Manipur on the Indian Army’s invitation.
The Army’s letter to the Guild’s president Seema Mustafa, dated July 12, reveals that it asked the journalists’ body to conduct an examination of local media reports highlighted by it. Local media, the letter said, had “been indulging in outright misrepresentation of facts that violate all norms of journalistic ethics and in the process may be one of the major contributors to the instigation of further violence.”
The letter signed by Colonel Anurag Pandey of the Information Warfare wing, for the General Officer Commanding, notes that the “bias of the media in favour of one community and against the other community emerges clearly” in daily reports. The Guild’s own report too notes this bias.
The letter notes that Imphal-based media’s “outright representation of facts” may be one of the major contributors to the instigation of further violence, despite an internet ban in the area.
“I, therefore, request that an examination of the above reports be conducted to ascertain whether the guidelines for journalists and media houses have been violated by these media houses which appears one-sided and appropriate action be taken accordingly,” the letter says.
The Army also cites a few instances where its version of events differ from allegedly partisan versions presented by local media. “The quantum of incorrect reporting being enormous, the undersigned would like to clearly establish the facts of the matter through three cases as illustrations…” the letter says.
As illustration, the letter speaks of an incident in Khamenlok on June 13.
“The incident revolved around a mob which had raided villages of Khamenlok and adjoining areas commencing 12 June. The mob was duly supported by womenfolk who blocked Army troops trying to reach the village, so that the mob could go about burning the village unhindered. After carrying out arson of multiple villages, members supporting/ those who actually undertook arson were killed in a retaliatory strike. It was a clear case of the attackers being attacked. Few amongst those who got killed, not hailing from the area & the fact that they were killed in a village of the other community may serve to give an indication of turn of events on 13 June.”
The letter notes that “notwithstanding the truth,” the newspapers in Imphal covered the incident as visible in some paper cuttings it attached to the letter.
The attached clips were from Sangai Express, the People’s Chronicle and The Imphal Free Press.
The letter also made mention of an incident in Khoken on June 9, which it called a “black moment” in journalism.
“The Kuki village of Khoken was attacked at 4 AM on 09 June by armed miscreants dressed in police uniforms. Three people were killed in the incident, including a 67 year old woman who was shot in the village church. A large number of Meitei
women began gathering in the adjoining village of Sangaithel when news spread that the Army was engaging the attackers in a gunfight. The names of the deceased were posted on Twitter by a Kuki handle by noon on 09 June. Attack on Khoken village(Kuki Village) by Kuki militants & all those killed being termed as Kuki militants (one 67 year old woman & one 70
yr old man) could well serve to be another, black moment in journalism.”
The letter then said that the version of the incident covered by Imphal-based media outlets was ostensibly illustrated in the paper clips the Army attached.
Another incident cited by the Army is on an alleged ambulance burning June 4. “This incident was the nadir of journalism in Imphal and occurred in Iroisemba locality of Imphal,” the letter said. It describes the incident thus:
“A seven-year old Kuki boy being evacuated to hospital for a bullet injury was burnt alive inside an ambulance with his Meitei mother and another relative by a mob of Meiteis at around 6 PM. The father of the boy was a Kuki and that relation was enough to brand the entire family as belonging to the Kuki community. Two women and one child were burnt alive in the ambulance by the mob. The incident was completely blacked out by Imphal media, because it would project one community in poor light. An incident that should have been front page headlines was conspicuously absent from the newspapers and completely glossed over. It was, however, picked up by some national media reporters on 06 June and eventually emerged on most national media portals by 07 June. Even there, a failed attempt was made to attribute responsibility of the burning to a Kuki mob. Reputed media outlet which carried an incorrect version was forced to amend the story, only after an angry backlash across social media.”
To illustrate that this news was missing, the Army attached the following two images of The Sangai Express but did not mention the dates of them.
Calling what local media was doing, “large scale unethical reporting,” the letter said that “at a time when tensions between the two communities are running high, least that the vernacular media can do is ‘to give peace a chance to come back to Manipur.”