The Editors Guild of India has said that it is “disturbed” by the FIR over its fact-finding report and shocked by Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh’s “intimidatory” remarks.
Urging the Manipur government to close the FIRs, the guild said that the underlying idea of the report was to “enable introspection and reflection on the media’s conduct in such a sensitive situation”. It further said the CM’s “labelling” of the journalist body as “anti-state” and “anti-national” is deeply disturbing. “The guild is extremely disturbed that rather than respond to the concerns raised in the report in a meaningful way, the state government has registered FIRs invoking multiple provisions of the IPC.”
Three members of a fact-finding team and the president of the Editors Guild of India were 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”.
An FIR 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.
Meanwhile, the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union and Editors Guild Manipur – based in the valley – also threatened the Editors Guild of India with a “legal damage suit” if it does not issue a clarification on “grave misrepresentations”.
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.”
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Update at 9 pm, September 6: The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim protection from arrest to the guild's president and three senior journalists. It listed the matter for a detailed hearing on September 11.