The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn that an adverse situation for media workers in the Indian state of Manipur, has turned markedly worse in the space of a mere week.
By all credible accounts, this has happened on account both of militant groups operating in Manipur and retaliatory action by state authorities.
“We believe that both sides have chosen the wrong target”, said IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.
According to reports received from the Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU), an IFJ affiliate, the Manipur state government has imposed new restrictions on the local media, particularly on reporting the activities of armed insurgent groups in the state.
The IFJ understands that the Home Department in the Manipur state government has issued an order under which any material, printed or electronically encoded, would be forfeited, if believed to contain anything connected to underground or subversive groups.
The IFJ is informed by its affiliate, that once the notice of forfeiture is issued, the police can seize any copy of the publication in question, and under warrant issued by a magistrate, enter upon and search any premises for the same.
“These powers reserved for the police authorities would stifle any notion of media freedom”, said Park. “More alarming though, is the notion that the state authorities can legitimately respond to the intimidation of the media by armed insurgent groups, with threats of their own”.
The IFJ condemns the July 31 incident in Manipur’s state capital of Imphal, when a newspaper office received a live mortar shell, gift-wrapped, as a warning to stay away from reportage on certain of the armed insurgent groups in the state.
“We fully endorse the action taken by local newspaper staff to strike work in protest against this act of intimidation”, said Park.
The IFJ calls upon the militant group concerned to respond to the demand by the community of journalists, and stop targeting the media.
Various militant groups have been sending press releases to newspaper offices, demanding that they be published, according to credible reports received by IFJ.
“In this manner”, said Park, “the armed confrontation between various militant groups is being played out in the newsrooms of the Manipur media”.
The IFJ calls upon the chief minister of the Indian state of Manipur, to increase the security patrols in the vicinity of media offices, as he has committed himself to doing.
The IFJ also endorses the call made by its affiliate, the IJU, that the media in Manipur and the rest of India, refrain from the celebratory reporting of political violence.
The Press Council of India, the IFJ learns, has established reasonable guidelines on reporting situations of armed conflict. Yet, the problems in Manipur are recognisably of a different character, since armed insurgency affects every sphere of life and society in the state.
“For this reason, a blanket ban on the coverage of militancy in the state would amount to a serious abridgment of the public right to know”, said Park. The powers of search and seizure that the Manipur government has assumed, will seriously impede the professional community of journalists in the performance of their fundamental tasks.
The IFJ endorses the IJU’s demand that the Manipur state government withdraw its recent order and build an ambience where media freedom is respected by all.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries