The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim protection from police action to members of the Editors Guild of India on the two first information reports filed against them for releasing a report on the media coverage of ethnic violence in Manipur, reported Live Law.
The cases have been filed against the authors of the fact-finding 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 by narco-terrorists.
On Wednesday, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan had mentioned the matter before a bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra. The Editors Guild sought directions from the court to quash the two FIRs.
The court will next hear the matter on September 11.
In one of the FIRs, the police 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.
After the first FIR was filed on Monday, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said that the Editors Guild did not have the authority to constitute a fact-finding team to conduct an investigation in the state.
“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.”
The northeastern state has been wracked with ethnic violence since May 3 between the Meiteis and the Kukis. So far over 195 persons have died in the state and 60,000 have been displaced. On Monday, United Nations experts had raised concerns about alleged human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, home destruction, forced displacement, torture and ill-treatment.
What did the Editors Guild report say?
The fact-finding report published on September 2 said that media in Manipur which is largely Meitei owned carried “one-sided reports” about 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.”
It also noted that reporting from Manipur became difficult due to the internet ban imposed in the state since May 3. Ground reporting from Kuki-majority districts like Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal disappeared in the days after the clashes broke out, the fact-finding team said.
The Editors Guild also emphasised 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.
On Tuesday, it had issued a fresh statement urging the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state to withdraw the two FIRs. 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 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.