The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday said that it was “deeply disturbed” by the Manipur Police’s decision to register first information reports against its members and Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s remarks calling the journalists’ body “anti-national”.

The press body said in a statement that that rather than responding to concerns raised in its report in a meaningful manner, the state government has registered FIRs invoking multiple provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

Two FIRs were filed against the members of the Editors Guild of India on Sunday for their report on the media coverage of the ethnic violence in the northeastern state. The case was 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. The complainants had alleged that the report was false, fabricated and sponsored.

After the first FIR was filed, Singh had said that the Editors Guild did not have the authority to constitute a fact-finding team and conduct an investigation in Manipur.

“They are anti-state, anti-national and anti-establishment [people] who came to pour venom,” Singh had, according to The Hindu. “Had I known it before, would not have allowed them to enter.”

Several journalists’ associations such as the Mumbai Press Club, the Press Club of India, Digipub News India Foundation and Indian Women’s Press Corps have said that the Manipur Police’s action amounts to an act of intimidation and shows the state government’s heavy-handed behaviour.

On Tuesday, the Editors Guild said that it had received several representations from civil society as well as the Indian Army raising concerns that the media in Manipur was playing a partisan role in the ethnic conflict between the majority Meitei community and the Kukis.

“The team met a cross-section of reporters, editors, representatives of the Editors Guild of Manipur, All Manipur Working Journalists Union, civil society activists, public intellectuals, women affected by the violence, tribal spokespersons and the representatives of the security forces operating in Manipur,” it said.

The body also pointed out that Singh’s remarks against the team come at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government is emphasising India’s democratic credentials as well as the spirit of freedom of speech at a global stage for the G20 summit.

The Editors Guild added it has already acknowledged and corrected an error that was pointed out regarding a photo caption in its reports and that is open to further discussion.

“The Guild would also like to reiterate that the underlying idea of the report was to enable introspection and reflection on the media’s conduct in such a sensitive situation,” it said. “ The Guild urges the state government to close the FIRs.”

Over 195 people have been killed since the conflict broke out between the Meiteis and the Kukis in Manipur on May 3. Nearly 60,000 persons have also been forced to flee their homes. The state has reported cases of rape and murder, and mobs have looted police armoury and set several homes on fire despite the heavy presence of central security forces.

What did the Editors Guild report say?

The fact-finding report of the Editors Guild, published on September 2, 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 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 began.

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.