‘This is intimidation’: Manipur withdraws notice issued to journalist under new digital media rules

Paojel Chaoba, the executive editor of Frontier Manipur, received the notice over an online show on the new rules.

WrittenBy:Tanishka Sodhi
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Hours after sending a notice to digital news platform Frontier Manipur under the Centre’s new rules to regulate digital media in India, Manipur authorities withdrew the notice with “immediate effect”.

Frontier Manipur was the first digital news platform to be targeted under the rules, which were introduced by the Modi government less than a week ago. The draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 include new guidelines for social media companies, OTT platforms, and digital news publishers.

The notice was issued this morning to the “publisher or intermediary” of Khanasi Neinasi, a weekly online show hosted on Frontier Manipur’s Facebook page and anchored by journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem.

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Issued by Naorem Praveen Singh, the district magistrate of Imphal West, and dated March 1, it was delivered in person by several policemen to the house of Paojel Chaoba, the news portal’s executive editor.

By 6 pm the same day, the notice was withdrawn, as Chaoba discovered when a second notice was pasted on the gate of his home.

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The second notice retracting the first.

Delivered in person, then retracted

The notice issued on Tuesday morning directed the publisher or intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi to “furnish all the relevant documents showing that you ensure compliance of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021; failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”.

The show in question was uploaded to Frontier Manipur’s Facebook page on February 28. According to the News Minute, it was titled “Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking A Tight Rope” and included a panel discussion on the new IT rules. Hosted by Wangkhemcha, the panelists were Chaoba, independent journalist Grace Jojo, and freelance journalist Ninglun Hanghal.

Both Chaoba and Wangkhem have faced police action before. In January, Chaoba was booked for sedition and criminal conspiracy along with journalist Dhiren Sadokpam for carrying an article in Frontier Manipur on the state’s insurgent groups. Wangkhem has been arrested multiple times, including under the National Security Act.

Chaoba told Newslaundry that several uniformed policemen came to his house to deliver the notice this morning.

“Is the government trying to gag the media? This is intimidation,” he said. “They could have sent the notice through courier.”

Chaoba also expressed concern that the new guidelines were being misused. “How can they send a notice and then retract it?”

The new guidelines for digital news media have been criticised by DIGIPUB News India Foundation, which argued they “appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”. In a letter to union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar on February 26, the association pointed out that “rules and laws already exist to hold news media accountable”, yet the new rules enable the government to even remove content published as current affairs or news.

DIGIPUB also noted that it had written to the information and broadcasting ministry in December, requesting to be “part of a consultation process” before notifying the rules, but received no response.

Update on March 3

Hindustan Times reported that the notice to the publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi was withdrawn "after the information and broadcasting ministry said that states did not have the power to take such steps".

I&B minister Prakash Javadekar told the newspaper: "The rules are very clear that a DM does not have the power to issue such a notice. The mechanism is mostly self-regulatory and only in very serious cases can they complain to the ministry."

The report cited a letter written by I&B ministry secretary Amit Khare to the Manipur chief secretary Rajesh Kumar, which said the powers under the new rules "have not been delegated to the state governments/district magistrate/police commissioner". It also said the rules would be administered by the I&B ministry, Hindustan Times added.

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