The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
joins its affiliate the Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) in urging the Indian
government to reconsider its strategy of combating rumours that have led to a mass
exodus of people of north-eastern Indian origin, from certain of the country’s industrial
On August 15, as India celebrated the sixty-five year
anniversary of its independence, large numbers of people from the north-eastern
states who have settled in the southern city of Bangalore crowded into the
city’s railway station, seeking passage back home.
The following day, a similar exodus occurred from
Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai, despite efforts by government officials and the
police to allay fears. For the most part those fleeing travelled to the city of
Guwahati in Assam state, the economic hub of the eight states collectively known
as “north-eastern India”.
On August 16, the Journalists’ Union of Assam (JUA), a
unit of the IJU, raised a red flag over alarming
rumours being spread and called for the media to act responsibly in its
According to Geetartha Pathak, president of the JUA,
“A section of the media spread rumours and aired stories that people from
north-eastern India were being attacked in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai”.
SMS messages warning of retaliation for sectarian
violence that began in Assam late in July caused mass panic. Four districts of
Assam were gutted by mass violence that still continues, between people of the
Muslim faith – deemed to be illegal immigrants -- and the Bodo tribal community
which claims original ownership of the land. There are concerns that
the violence in Assam may have caused India’s largest internal displacement in
In response, on August 17, the Indian government ordered a
ban on sending SMS messages to more than five recipients. It also issued
notices to internet service providers (ISPs) to block a number of websites deemed
as publishing highly inflammatory content on Assam events.
Best available information, the ban
order applies to items including twitter posts, blogs, URL’s and entire websites
which have published content on the recent ethnic violence in Assam. Much of
the content that has been blocked addresses the need for sober and critical
assessment of the images and messages that have been circulating via the web.
Pathak has argued that the bans decreed on SMS and the
blocking of websites, including social media, is an inadequate means of dealing
with a problem started through rumour. “Rather than limiting SMS and blocking
websites and social media, the Government of India should have started a massive
counter campaign against the rumours”, he
IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park joins the IJU
and its state unit in urging the Government of India to remove the current
restrictions. “While rumour
and propaganda impede people’s right to the truth, these restrictions serve as
punitive measures which threaten press freedom. Accurate and responsible
journalism requires full freedom of the media”.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0918
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