Three members of a fact-finding team and the president of the Editors Guild of India have been booked for publishing a “false, fabricated and paid” report on how Manipur media outlets have covered the ongoing conflict.
The report was published on September 2 and prepared by senior journalists Bharat Bhushan, Sanjay Kapoor and Seema Guha. The three were in Manipur from August 7 to August 10 and had spoken to journalists and other stakeholders from the hills and the valley. “Fake news finding space in Imphal media” is continuously deepening the ethnic divide in Manipur, said the , adding that media outlets in the valley have “seemingly become Meitei media”.
Meanwhile, the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU) and Editors Guild Manipur – based in the valley – have threatened the Editors Guild of India with a “legal damage suit” if it does not issue a clarification on “grave misrepresentations”. They “strongly denied” the “motivated allegation based on hearsay”.
Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh also hit out at the Editors Guild of India at a press conference on Monday. “I give a warning to the members of the Editors Guild. Who constituted them? If you want to do something, then do visit the spot, see the ground reality, meet the representatives of all communities and then publish what you found. Otherwise, meeting some sections only and coming to a conclusion is highly condemnable.”
However, a source in the Editors Guild of India maintained that the report “was not biased nor weighed down by prejudices. It was based on our interaction with journalists.”
A police officer in Imphal West confirmed the FIR. It was filed on Sunday under IPC sections 153-A (promoting enmity), 200 (false material), 295 and 298 (insulting religion), 505, 505 (1)(b) (intent to cause fear or alarm), 499 (defamation), 120(b) (criminal conspiracy); and section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
Last year, the Supreme Court said no person should be prosecuted under section 66A of the IT Act.
The FIR came after a complaint by a “social worker”, who wrote to the Imphal West police station saying that the caption of a photo used in the report was wrong. “After a brief reading of the report, it is found out that a picture at page no. 5 of the report has been shown under the caption: ‘Smoke rises from a Kuki house on 5 May’. But the true fact is that the said photo is the office of the forest beat officer at Mata Mualtam Village, Churachandpur.”
The complainant alleged that an FIR in connection with the arson had been filed on May 5. “On this account only, it is obvious that the report is false, fabricated and a paid news and sponsored by Kuki militants and its supporters.”
A phone call to Guild president Seema Mustafa did not elicit any response.
Another office-bearer said the error in the caption was corrected on Sunday. The caption does not have the word “Kuki” now. “Smoke rises from a house after clashes erupted in Manipur.”
“There was an error in a photo caption in the report released on Sep 2. The same is being rectified and updated report will be uploaded on the link shortly. We regret the error that crept in at the photo editing stage,” The Editors Guild of India posted on X.
The Guild functionary quoted above said the body will soon issue a statement after they receive a copy of the FIR.
On the allegation about being funded by “Kuki militants”, a source said the trip to Manipur was crowdfunded as the association did not have money. “We posted on Twitter for crowd-funding. People contributed in whatever they could. The Guild raised around Rs 1 lakh,” said the source.
“At Manipur Press Club in Imphal, the committee met 20 people. It also met journalists from the Shangai Express and others. The committee also analysed local newspapers from May to August. There was no shortage of inputs,” said the source.
In its critique of the EGI report, the AMWJU and EGM alleged the report, “as expected”, had committed “many factual errors”, listing out at least 16 such “errors” in a press statement. They were surprised to note how the report could establish within four days that “Meiteis were the initiators of the riots on May 3”. The press statement also questioned EGI’s contention that eviction drives from forest areas targeted Kukis. It claimed that 59 Kuki households had been evicted, 143 Meiteis, 137 Meitei Pangals (Muslim), 38 Nagas, and 36 Nepalis during such initiatives between 2015 and 2023.
The AMWJU and EGM also took exception to the cover photo of the ‘Wall of Remembrance’ – it is a small pavilion in Churachandpur with photos of Kuki-Zo people who died in the conflict. “The intent seems to be to show the Kuki-Zo communities as endemically victimised,” read the press statement.
Update at 7 pm, September 4: DIGIPUB has issued a statement condemning the FIR against the guild, noting that the Supreme Court had said no person should be prosecuted under section 66A of the IT Act. "We see the registration of the FIR as an act of intimidation, an attack on the freedom of the press, especially the usage of 66A." It said the Manipur government should refrain from "shooting the messenger" and the case be "immediately voided".
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