TODAY -

Reporting in Conflict Situation and Communal Harmony
- Part 1 -

Dr. A. Ibomcha Sharma *



Introduction: The history of laws of war and history of the professional hazards of journalists in an armed conflict situation are often intertwined. Even if the laws of war clearly spared the messengers/peace communicators from time immemorial, they were not absolutely free from the menace of war or armed conflict.

The risk associated with journalists in an armed conflict situation can be traced back to the Vedic Age in Indian context, Saint Narada is a glaring examples of it. Chanting "Narayana, Narayana", he reached to the Gods and to the Demons, informing thereby the ambition and evil designs of war each group planned against the other. He was considered as a trouble monger and many a time had to invite wrath of one section or both and hence had to face the music.

Reporting armed conflicts:

The combatants of an armed conflict try to control and manipulate the media with subtle and no so subtle propaganda and misinformation messages. Sometimes what the military authorities brief during armed conflicts is not news but illusion of news. Information is tightly controlled in such circumstances and for best known security reasons; distortion of news is seen at times.

As the frontline journalists are covering incident after incident, it becomes next to impossible for them to please both the warring parties and sometimes it happens that the group a journalist is embedded with becomes so furious that its armed personnel target him or her in the garb of mistake.

Killing the messengers in the crossfire is a regular case. Taking them into hostage and intentionally targeting them while they were performing their duty of informing the common populace are not rare actions cases.

On the part of journalists also, some of these actions were against their own professional ethics thereby causing irreparable damage to the credibility of the profession.

In an armed conflict situation, both the warring parties try to mould public opinion favorable to them. With that goal in view both try to use the media to their advantage either through persuasion or direct coercion. Herein starts the problem of an independent media trying to cover the prevailing situation in an objective manner.

Covering such situation also raises both moral and professional issues for the journalists. As per journalistic ethics, the fundamental function of the press is to report fairly, accurately and objectively about the newsworthy events. And the news value of an armed conflict is irresistible.

So, there is a great need of reporting the news pertaining to the armed conflict on the one hand and on the other side, the maneuverings of the conflicting parties to use the media to serve vested interests.

Covering militancy and the PCI observations:

In a bid to curtail propaganda of the proscribed secessionists' organizations through local print and electronic media and curb their oxygen of publicity, the government of Manipur clamped an official order on August 2, 2007 under Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The order says that any printed material, i.e. either newspapers or books an document whether printed or in electronic form shall be forfeited to the state government if they contain any material which are directly attributed to unlawful organizations, organised gangs, terrorists an terrorists related organizations considered to be subversive an a threat to the integrity of the state and the country.

The order of the State Home Department further forbids obituary notices of slain militants that would be glorifying them as martyrs of a freedom struggle. Publication of threats of any sort by terrorist organizations or unlawful organizations, publications of any code of behavior, dress code of social practice decreed by such organizations, publication of any justification for killings, causing injury, assault, kidnapping, imposition of fines or warnings by such organizations, publication of notices for payment to terrorists related organizations or unlawful outfits in cash or kind and publication of items in the form of invitation to the aforementioned organizations to settle or solve disputes are all altogether banned by the official order.

Opposing the move vehemently, the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) served an ultimatum to the state administration demanding it to withdraw the suppressing order on or before 9 August, 2007. In a memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, the Union flayed the government of trying to gag the freedom of expression in democratic India by clamping a stringent restriction.

The union further argued that if the order is allowed to prevail the national level television news channels would have to be banned from airing in Manipur and national level newspapers are to be stopped from circulating in the state, and the state will suffer a total cut off of communication from other parts of the country.

The Press Council of India sent one of its members to study and address the genuine grievances of the local journalists of the state in the first week of October, 2007. The PCI member discussed the issue with the AMWJU.

Acknowledging the gravity of the pressure journalists faced in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab (during the height of Khalistan movement) and the Northeast states, the Council conducted an enquiry in 1991 into the pressure the press in Punjab was facing.

A special committee was constituted to examine the problems and its report "Overcoming Fear" was adopted by the Council.205 It extended full support to the press in Punjab in its effort to inform the people truthfully and impartially of the events taking place in their state by reflecting all parties of an event with due care and self censorship and in resisting any diktats from terrorist groups.

In Kashmir also, the Council conducted more than one enquiry. In one enquiry in 1991 that covered both Kashmir and Punjab, the Council accepting its special committee's report "Crisis and Credibility", said the critical importance of information and communication in the complex and difficult situation in the state had not been adequately appreciate either by the government or the media. It suggested a series of measures to respond effectively to the complex situation.

In suggested a series of measures to respond effectively to the complex situation. In 1993-94, the Council conducted another enquiry into the problems facing the press in Kashmir and adopted a report entitled "Threats to the media from militant organizations".

In this report, the Council asked the government to provide institutional and area security to media personnel who faced threat from the militants for taking an independent stand.

To be continued.....


* Dr. A. Ibomcha Sharma, IIS wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is News Editor & Head, Regional News Unit, AIR, Imphal
This article was posted on 19th January , 2018 .


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