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Revoke FIR Against Editors’ Guild, Says DUJ

The Delhi Union of Journalists severely condemns the filing of an FIR by the Imphal police against the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) for its fact-finding report on the violent conflict in Manipur. A three-member team of veteran journalists had visited Manipur recently to examine how media organizations had been reporting the ongoing ethnic conflict. The FIR has been filed against the team members Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor and Bharat Bhushan as well as the President of the Guild Seema Mustafa. DUJ demands that this FIR be immediately revoked.

The FIR has been filed in response to a complaint by a local “social worker” who accuses the Guild of bias and challenges many statements made in the report. Multiple sections of the IPC have been unleashed with the intention to harass, intimidate and possibly punish the fact-finding team and the head of the Guild. Section 66 A of the IT Act too has been invoked, although this Section was struck down by the Supreme Court years ago. The complaint calls the report “false, fabricated and motivated”. It cites an inaccurate photo caption, which the Guild has since corrected. It questions the Guild’s reportage of statements by a former police officer regarding connections between drug smugglers and the Chief Minister. It defends the state government’s policies regarding drugs, forestry, migration from Myanmar and other issues. The complaint uses intemperate language and accuses the Guild report of misrepresenting facts to exacerbate hostility between communities and bring down the elected government.

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It needs to be pointed out that the Editors Guild of India is a prestigious institution comprising many of the leading journalists in the country. The team it sent from Delhi comprised neutral observers from the mainland. Accusing it of bias in such a matter is absurd.

The Guild’s 24-page report, besides providing an overview of the conflict, actually provides useful insights into the role of the Manipur media in reporting the conflict. It points to the asymmetry between the dominant Imphal based media which largely reflects the Meitei perspective and the almost negligible hill based media that reflects the Kuki Zo and Naga viewpoint. It also points out that the Imphal media was under huge social pressure to report only the Meitei view and during the conflict editors consulted with each other and came to a consensus on language to be used, reportage of events etc. It observes that the media failed in its duty to counter the vilification of the security forces, particularly the Assam Rifles which was tasked with controlling the conflict and had rescued many people.

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The Guild report observes that the internet ban made it very difficult for reporters in the hills to send news to their Imphal based news outlets, so news from the hills often went unreported. Further, balanced coverage by the valley media, including the usual cross-checking of information with various sources, became difficult because of the internet shutdown. The report makes strong observations on the 100 plus days Internet ban, pointing out that the Supreme Court has ruled in the Anuradha Bhasin case that bans longer than 15 days must not be imposed.

The Delhi Union of Journalists protests against the tendency by state governments and police to file FIRs against all those who uncover information inconvenient to them. The Manipur police had recently filed an FIR against a fact-finding team of the National Federation of Indian Women which brought out a report on the conflict. The FIR against the Guild is an exercise in shooting the messenger.

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