Journalists in Manipur wrote “one-sided reports” in their coverage of the ethnic conflict in the northeastern state, a fact-finding team of the Editors Guild said in its report released on Saturday.

“In normal circumstances, they would be cross-checked and monitored by their editors or chiefs of bureaus from the local administration, police and security forces,” the report noted. “However, this was not possible during the conflict.”

The three-member fact finding team also flagged that reporting from Manipur became difficult due to the internet ban imposed in the state since early May when the conflict between the Meiteis and Kukis.

“...Local news gathered without any communication links was not sufficient to give a balanced view of the situation,” the Editors Guild found.

‘Imphal media transformed into Meitei media’

The Editors Guild team concluded that ground reporting from Kuki-majority districts like Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal disappeared in the days after the clashes broke out on May 3.

“Newspersons informed me that their correspondents in the hill districts had even stopped answering phone calls from around mid-May,” a senior civil society leader in Imphal told the Editors Guild.

Editors in Imphal “acted collectively with editors consulting each other and agreeing on a common narrative”, the press body said in its report. The fact-finding team noted that the editors decided to do do as they “did not want to inflame the already volatile situation further”.

“However, the downside of such an approach during ethnic violence is that it can easily slip into forging a common ethnic narrative and lead to a collective downslide of journalistic principles by deciding what to report and what to censor,” the report added.

Fake news and disinformation

The Editors Guild flagged more than 10 instances where it found that the media had reported fake news and spread disinformation.

“It is now visible that the ethnic divide deepened progressively through fake news, which finds space only in Imphal media,” the report said.

The report added that media in Imphal vilified security forces, especially 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 report noted.

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