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State of Manipur vs. EGI Journalists: Supreme Court relieves four journalists from getting arrested over the “Manipur Fact-finding Report” case

Manipur CM gets shamed after dragging four senior journalists from the Editors Guild of India (EGI) to court. He lectured on the impact of 'fake reportage' but forgot to correct his own mouthpieces.

On September 6th, a Supreme Court bench headed by CJI D Y Chandrachud, Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra protected the four journalists from getting arrested over an allegedly biased “fact-finding report” on the brutal ethnic clashes plaguing Manipur since the past four months. As per the interim order by the apex court, the journalists of the case shall be protected against arrest by the Manipur police till September 11th.

On September 4th, Manipur police filed a case against the Editors Guild of India (EGI) over publishing a “one-sided” report which they consider to be “inciteful” for further violence in the state. N. Sarat Singh, an Imphal-based social worker, filed an FIR against three senior columnists and the incumbent president of the EGI over the reportage by labelling their work “false, fabricated and a paid news, and sponsored by Kuki militants.”

Editors Guild of India, founded in 1978, is a non-profit organisation comprising several journalists and columnists dedicated to “protecting press freedom” and elevating “the standards of editorial leadership of newspapers and magazines.”

A fact-finding team from the Editors Guild of India visited Manipur between August 7th and 10th to assess the “ground reality” of the violence-marred state. However, on September 2nd, all hell broke loose after the EGI published a report highly critical of the N. Biren Singh government and the Imphal-based media outlets.

The dissenters pontificated several discrepancies in the published content, expressing concerns over the potential impact of some of these allegedly ‘misplaced claims’ on the battle-weary Manipuri society. The Chief Minister of the state, N. Biren Singh, slandered the EGI in a press conference by condemning their report as “totally one-sided” and botched up.

Apparent follies in EGI’s reportage:

Inside the body of the report, an image of a building up in smoke was captioned as “a Kuki house,” which later turned out to be a building belonging to Manipur’s Forest Department (in the Churachandpur district) set on fire by a mob. The EGI responded swiftly by apologising for the error and promised to update the content shortly. 

In another precept of the report, EGI columnists claimed that the N. Biren Singh government had labelled all Kuki people as “illegal immigrants” following rumours of refugees fleeing from Myanmar and entering Manipur. The EGI report reads, “The state government seems to have facilitated the majority’s anger against the Kukis through several seemingly partisan statements and policy measures.

In response, social worker Sarat Singh pointed out how the EGI columnists had evaded some key facts that illustrated the gravity of the immigration problem in Manipur. By citing these shortcomings and several others, the BJP government in Manipur has refuted each claim made in the report. 

Charges against the EGI journalists:

The Manipur government has invoked section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which criminalises someone for intentionally posting “offensive content” online. Despite the Supreme Court striking it down in 2015 owing to its frequent misuse, the N. Biren Singh government dragged EGI’s journalists to the court using the same draconian law.

The FIR was lodged against the incumbent president of EGI, Seema Mustafa and three senior journalists, Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan, and Sanjay Kapoor, who visited Manipur for the reportage. 

The Manipur police invoked several sections of the Indian Penal Code to vilify the journalists under:

  • Section 153A criminalises promoting enmity between two communities;
  • Section 200 criminalises the use of false declarations as facts; 
  • Section 298 penalises a deliberate intention to hurt religious feelings; 
  • Other schedules of the IPC were invoked concerning offences relating to “defamation with criminal conspiracy.”

Had the Supreme Court not intervened in due time, the journalists could have faced up to three years of imprisonment (unless they got bailed out) under these charges.

What does the EGI report say?

The disputed report by the Editors Guild of India apparently divulges how Imphal-based media outlets carried out biased programs that further estranged the warring communities from each other. They identified as many as ten instances when the regional media had fanned communal tensions by broadcasting fake news and sensitive information without scrutiny. 

The report illustrated how the hill tribes did not get represented in proportion to their population and how the mainstream narrative was usually against them. The EGI wrote, “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….Meitei media became a party to the vilification of the security forces, especially the Assam Rifles.”

Apart from holding up the flaws of the Media, EGI lambasted the N. Biren Singh government’s blatant partisanship while attempting to restore normalcy in the region. They pontificated examples where the government abused the tribals by calling them “Narco-terrorists” and “outsiders.”

Take Away:

The EGI reportage has several flaws. But are they as critical an offence as invoking the persecution of three eminent journalists? Did we forget the glaring instances of misgovernance and institutionalised bigotry during the ‘rape of Manipur?‘ Other eminent media organisations had already reiterated most of the claims made by the EGI. Hence, it is safe to say that their claims are not mere castles in the air.

Manipuri Chief Minister’s incapacity while dealing with the crisis lies barren before India, and nothing can undermine the fact that Biren Singh kept quiet for two months after two Kuki women got paraded naked in brought daylight under his governance. His devotion to maintaining the intra-cultural bonhomie comes under the scanner when we realise how he upheld the model of demolishing tribal households under the camouflage of “destroying narco-terrorism.” 

Before the CM of Manipur lectured on the ill impacts of biased media, he should have reprimanded his regional press for the constant hate-mongering that played an integral role in fabricating the violence. Thus, it exemplifies how the Manipur government is concerned about its ‘image’ rather than its ‘cultural cohesiveness.’

The Supreme Court’s interim order to safeguard the 04 journalists from getting arrested (despite a sitting CM’s order) implies a healthy precedent of Judicial activism, which is cardinal to India’s democracy.

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Kunwar Devender Singh

Kunwar is a passionate writer, philanthropist and a social worker. He is the founder of Brave Hearts (India's First Crisis Helpline for Indian Armed Forces), Digpu News Network, Save Earth and Digital Punch.

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