Guwahati: Though named as Editors Guild of India (EGI), the acclaimed
national forum of editors seemingly does not earn respects from the
media fraternities in all States of Bharat. The recent controversy
relating to the EGI reflects a poor side of the organisation that has
no effective representative in the northeastern State of Manipur. Even
the EGI faces strong condemnation from the working journalists &
editors of Manipur for a recent report prepared by its team after
visiting the Myanmar bordering State.
Founded in 1978 with objectives to protect press freedom and raise the
standard of editorial leadership for newspapers and periodicals in the
largest democracy on Earth, the EGI today faces allegations of
possessing biased observations on ethnic conflicts in Manipur and even
flaring up turmoil with its initiative. Even the EGI had to approach
the Supreme Court for instant relief to its members, who were the part
of a fact-finding mission and subsequently faced two police complaints
lodged in Manipur. The team members along with EGI president were
extended interim protection from any coercive action for some days.
The debates began as the EGI released a report on 2 September after
it’s three-member fact-finding team visited Manipur from 7 to 10
August to study media coverages of the ongoing conflicts between the
majority Meiteis and Kuki-Chin-Zo community that has already snatched
away the lives of over 150 individuals, wounded many more residents
and also displaced thousands of families as their villages were under
attacks since 3 May. The report slammed the internet ban and
criticized the State authorities’ partisan role during the conflicts.
The EGI observed that local media reporting was slightly inclined to
the largely Vaisnav Meitei community, which constitutes over 50%
Manipur population and primarily settles in Imphal valley (the rest
belongs to Kuki and Naga people living in surrounding hills areas).
There is a Meitei government, Meitei police and Meitei bureaucracy in
Imphal and the tribal people have no faith in them, stated the EGI
report, which invited strong reaction from the State government and
the local media fraternity terming it ‘incorrect and false’.
Soon two police complaints were lodged against the EGI’s fact-finding
team members (Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor) along with
their president Seema Mustafa citing various IPC sections for
provoking enmity between different communities and deliberate attempts
to flare up religious sentiments. The FIRs were reportedly filed by
Ngangom Sarat Singh (a retired government engineer turned social
worker) and Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, a resident of Imphal. Ms
Sangita even urged the government to request for a Central Bureau of
Investigation probe into the case.
Meanwhile, two major media bodies of Manipur also denounced the
allegations floated by the EGI in its report, which was completed in
four days. All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) and Editors
Guild Manipur (EGM) took a strong exception to the ‘half-baked’ report
where the Imphal-based journalists were misrepresented. Both the
organizations, while releasing a joint media statement, urged the EGI
to issue a clarification, otherwise they had resolved to go for legal
actions against the national body.
Speaking to this writer from Imphal, Rinku Khumukcham, the editor of
Imphal Times, clarified that the Manipur government has not lodged
till date any FIR against the EGI members as widely reported by
various media outlets and journalists’ organizations based in New
Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. He however admitted that Manipur chief
minister N. Biren Singh during a press briefing on 4 September, after
appealing to all residents of the State to maintain peace and
tranquility, strongly condemned the EGI report on media coverage of
the turmoil that gripped the State for over four months.
Even though the EGI expressed shock over the police complaints as well
as harsh reactions by CM Singh against their report, it’s understood
that the EGI team, which went there to study the role of Manipur media
outlets in reporting the ethnic conflicts, but went beyond its mandate
to analyse the causes of ethnic violence in Manipur. It even quoted an
unidentified Kuki individual who alleged that the Imphal-based
journalists took dictations from the chief minister’s office.
Moreover, the EGI report criticised the Union government for not
dismissing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Imphal and
impose President’s rule in Manipur.