When we used to presume the Editors Guild of India (EGI) as a national forum of editors, the journalists-editors of Manipur changed the perception. Two major local media bodies have challenged the EGI over its fact-finding report on the ongoing ethnic conflicts in the northeastern State and it only reflected that the editor’s club may not have representative in all States of Bharat.
Founded in 1978 with objectives to protect press freedom and raise the standard of editorial leadership for newspapers and periodicals in the largest democracy on Earth, the EGI today faces allegations of possessing biased observation as well as flaring up turmoil in Manipur with its initiative. Even the guild had to approach the Supreme Court of India for instant relief to its members, who were the part of a fact-finding mission to Manipur and subsequently faced two police complaints. The team members along with EGI president were extended interim protection from any coercive action for some days.
The debates began as the EGI released a report on 2 September after it’s three-member team visited Manipur from 7 to 10 August to study media coverages of the ongoing conflicts between the majority Meiteis and Kuki-Chin-Zo community that has already snatched away the lives of over 150 individuals, wounded many more residents and also displaced thousands of families as their villages were under attacks since 3 May. The report slammed the internet ban and criticized the State authorities’ partisan role during the conflicts.
The EGI observed that local media reporting was slightly inclined to the largely Vaishnav Meitei community, which constitutes over 50% Manipur population and primarily settles in Imphal valley (the rest belongs to mostly Christian Kuki and Naga people living in surrounding hilly areas). There is a Meitei government, Meitei police and Meitei bureaucracy in Imphal and the tribal people have no faith in them, stated the EGI report, which invited strong reaction from the State government and also the local media fraternity terming it as ‘incorrect and false’.
Soon two police complaints were lodged against the EGI’s fact-finding team members (Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor) along with their president Seema Mustafa citing various IPC sections for provoking enmity between different communities and deliberate attempts to flare up religious sentiments. The FIRs were reportedly filed by Ngangom Sarat Singh (a retired government engineer turned social worker) and Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, a resident of Imphal. Ms Sangita even urged the government to request for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the case.
She argued that only a high level probe can unearth various elements associated with the process. The use of terms like Meitei police or Meitei media was very unfortunate and condemnable, stated Ms Sangita, adding that after release of the EGI report situation turned more tense and it indirectly created more troubles in the State. Pointing out that the EGI team was crowdfunded, Ms Sangita asserted that the people of Manipur should know who contributed money for the initiative. She stated that the EGI on 26 July asked for donations to organize the fact-finding mission to Manipur through its social media account.
Meanwhile, All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) and Editors Guild Manipur (EGM) denounced the allegations floated by the EGI in its report, which was completed in mere four days. They took a strong exception to the ‘half-baked’ report where the Imphal-based journalists were misrepresented. Both the organizations, while releasing a joint media statement, urged the EGI to issue a clarification, otherwise they had resolved to go for legal actions against the national body. In a joint statement by the two influential media bodies claimed that the EGI report has many contentions and wrong representations which are damaging to the reputation of the media fraternity of Manipur, especially the Imphal-based news outlets.
Earlier, Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh strongly condemned the EGI report on media coverage of the turmoil that gripped the State since 3 May. He even questioned the neutrality and intellectual capacity of the EGI members and drew many fault lines while summarizing many issues abruptly. Condemning the incident where two women were physically attacked by a mob (video of which went viral on social media), Singh added that a group of Meitei women rescued the victims and shifted to a safer place.
Talking about some media reports where it was described that one certain spokesperson of Kuki Inpi threatened Meiteis to avoid coming to Moreh without a permanent solution to the present crisis and many Tamil families in the border town were insisted to pay illegal tax for their survival, Singh warned that the government will not allow such activities. He also added that an FIR has been lodged against the concerned person.
It’s understood that the EGI team, which went to Manipur to study the role of local media outlets in reporting the ethnic conflicts, stepped beyond its mandate to analyze the causes of ethnic violence in the State. It even quoted an unidentified Kuki individual who alleged that the Imphal-based journalists took dictations from the chief minister’s office. Moreover, the EGI report criticized the Union government for not imposing President’s rule in Manipur after dismissing the Bhartiya Janata Party-led government.