“Fake news finding space in Imphal media” is continuously deepening the ethnic divide in Manipur, said a fact-finding report issued by the Editors’ Guild of India on Saturday. The state’s media outlets, which are concentrated in Imphal Valley, have “seemingly become Meitei media”, the report said, listing out several fake news articles. These included articles published in The Sangai Express, Imphal Free Press and The Frontier Express.
Besides accusing Manipur media of writing “one-sided reports” and “reversing” facts to forge a common ethnic narrative in favour of the Meiteis, the report alleged that these media outlets also vilified the security forces and peddled “constant propaganda”, especially against the Assam Rifles. “The state government also tacitly supported this vilification by allowing Manipur Police to file an FIR against the Assam Rifles, suggesting that one hand of the state did not know what the other was doing or this was deliberate action.”
The internet suspension “made matters worse”, the report said. It led to unchecked rumours and “blocked the views of the disadvantaged community”. It restricted the hill correspondents’ access to Imphal Valley media. The restricted communication and transport coupled with the internet ban meant that the media had to rely “almost entirely” on the government’s narrative, which was only “playing up to biases of the majority Meiteis”.
Terming the state leadership “partisan”, the report said ethnic divide has seeped into government institutions. “Manipur police and commando units were also partisan and allegedly openly-sided with the civilians and raided Kuki villages in the outskirts of Imphal... the bureaucracy today is divided along ethnic lines.”
The fact-finding report noted that in an “inexplicable move”, nearly two months before the violence broke out, the BJP state government had withdrawn from the tripartite Suspension of Operations agreement, similar to a cease-fire pact, with Kuki insurgent groups.
On the role of Meira Paibis in the ongoing conflict, it said that the once admired civil rights activists’ group had become “cheerleaders of violent mobs” attacking Kuki homes. The report said certain video clips showed Meira Paibis “urging youth to rape Kuki women”.
Barrage of fake news
The Manipur media on several occasions either blacked out news about the Kukis, “reversed” the facts or “inverted the role” of Meitei mobs, the report said.
It noted the media outlets in Manipur did not report about the Meitei mob attack on a seven-year-old Kuki boy. The child and his mother were burned alive in an ambulance on their way to a hospital in Manipur. It was only one of the several incidents where violence by Meitei mobs were not reported.
Meanwhile, an article in Imphal Free Press claimed that Myanmar nationals were treated at the district hospital of Kuki-dominated Churachandpur, implying that the injured Kukis treated at the hospital were “infiltrators from Myanmar”. The report was refuted by the Assam Rifles.
In another instance, a report in The Sangai Express stated that Kuki “narco-militants” had desecrated a temple at Gwaltabi. However, a rebuttal by the Assam Rifles stated that “no damage was done to the temple” and there was “no activity” of Kuki militants in the area.
Assam Rifles targeted
Several of the “fake news” and even editorial articles published in the local newspapers targeted the Assam Rifles.
Notably, the Indian Army even wrote a complaint to the Editors’ Guild with several specific examples of media in Manipur “arousing passion and not letting sustainable peace come in”. The letter claimed that media outlets were indulging in “outright misrepresentation of facts” and were biased “in favour of one community”.
The fact-finding report noted that an article in Imphal Free Press claimed that the Committee to Preserve the Integrity of Manipur had asked for the “removal of Assam Rifles” as it had “close-ties with illegal immigrants and narco-terrorists”. Countering these allegations, the Assam Rifles had replied that it played a “crucial role” in capturing many illegal immigrants. “In Manipur only approximately 5,500 such individuals have been apprehended in the past two years,” it stated.
Meanwhile, a column in The Frontier Express claimed that the Assam Rifles were engaged in “setting up non-designated camps for Kuki militants to attack Meitei militants”. The paramilitary forces subsequently issued a rebuttal denying the allegations.
In another instance, four versions of the same event were reported by different newspapers in Manipur, accusing the security forces of “firing blanks on Meira Paibis”. The Assam Rifles, in their version of the incident, said that in response to the threat, the RAF had “used smoke grenade to disperse an agitated mob”.
These were only a few of the fake news mentioned in the report, which also said that the list was “by no means exhaustive”.
Newslaundry had earlier reported how the perception battle was being fought in Manipur’s local media, deepening the divide between the hills and the valley.