The Manipur Police have filed a case against three members of a fact-finding team of the Editors Guild of India and the press body’s president in connection with a report it released on Saturday on the media coverage of the ethnic conflict in the northeastern state.
The case has been filed against the authors of the report – Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor – and the president of the Editors Guild of India, Seema Mustafa.
In the case registered on the complaint of Imphal West resident Ngangom Sarat Singh, the police had first invoked Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act even though the provision had been struck down by the Supreme Court. However, a police officer told Scroll that the section had been removed from the original FIR and that it was initially “hurriedly written” by officials.
Section 66A gave the government power to arrest and imprison an individual for “offensive and menacing” online posts. On multiple occasions, the court has directed that nobody should be prosecuted under the provision.
The police have also invoked provisions of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to promoting enmity between groups, injuring or defiling a place of worship, uttering words with deliberate intent to hurt religious feelings, and statements conducing to public mischief.
The complaint alleged that the report was “false, fabricated [and] sponsored”. It said that a photo in the report falsely claimed to show smoke rising from a Kuki home, when it was in fact the office of a forest official. The complaint said on this account itself, it was obvious that the report was false and was “sponsored by Kuki militants”.
The police have also received a second complaint from Imphal East resident Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita. Imphal East Superintendent of Police Maharabam Pradip Singh told Scroll that the complaint is being looked into.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Monday said that the Editors Guild did not have the authority to constitute a fact-finding team and carry out an investigation in Manipur, reported ANI.
“I also gave a warning to the members of the Editors Guild, 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,” Singh said at a press conference. “...The state government has filed an FIR against the members of the Editors Guild who are trying to create more clashes in the state of Manipur.”
On Sunday, the Editors Guild had issued an apology for the error in the photo caption. “We regret the error that crept in at the photo editing stage,” the press body said.
In July too, the Manipur Police had filed a case against three members of a fact-finding team who had called the violence in the state “state-sponsored”. The first information report had been filed against three women – Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu and Deeksha Dwivedi.
Raja and Siddhu are associated with the National Federation of Indian Women, the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India, while Dwivedi is a Delhi-based lawyer. They have been charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to waging war against the state, provocation and defamation.
What did the Editors Guild report say?
The fact-finding report of the Editors Guild said that journalists in Manipur wrote “one-sided reports” in their coverage of the ethnic conflict in the northeastern state.
“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.
The report said that ground reporting from Kuki-majority districts like Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal disappeared in the days after the clashes broke out.
The Editors Guild also 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. It said that the state government tacitly supported this vilification by allowing the Manipur Police to file a first information report against the Assam Rifles.