TODAY -

The press under pressure

Seram Neken *



'In the real world, the right thing never happens in the right place and the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to make it appear that it has.' Mark Twain

Media fraternity in Manipur has often been the soft target for the conflict between the state and the non-state actors. The fourth estate of modern democracy has failed to enjoy its valued freedom in serving the information needs of the people. Nobody likes any single morning to pass without a brief look-at at news headlines. 'Daily' is thus the title that fits a newspaper. Besides Roti, Kapada and Makaan, communication today has become the fourth basic necessity of life. Media used to feed mankind with calories of news and views every moment. Today, the role of media in any event or crisis has been widened from mere reporting to greater involvement in the solution of an issue. Media work is a risky social service for the sake of information seekers. Democracy without an effective media is no democracy at all. The nature of a state is manifested in the quantum of freedom enjoyed by the media and the amount of pressure exerted on it.

Newspaper publication in Manipur is many a time disrupted for one or the other pressures either from the establishment or from the so-called underground groups. The recent victimization of AMJU spokesperson Shri A. Mobi Singh by the government machineries for alleged connection with underground groups has openly revealed the Manipuri proverb "Thingelda Tainaba Ngamdraga Nashikhongda TainabaM". Although it deems prejudice to comment on the case involving the journalist, many circles opine that media shall not be victimized and information needs of people in a democracy shall not be halted under any circumstances.

In recent past, publication works in Churachandpur district were halted for a few days in protest against the intimidation to a news reporter of the 'Lamka Post' by the group KNF(MC). The newsman who reported misappropriation of huge quantity of rice under Integrated Child Development Scheme in its 29 July 2010 edition on the basis of a public programme in Churachandpur, received threats from a hardcore cadre of the proscribed group that demanded a corrigendum of the news report as the later felt it too vivid. The Manipur Hill Journalists' Union asked the KNF(MC) to withdraw it's threat and tender an apology, which the organization failed to comply in time. Newspaper publication in the district was suspended for some days till it resumed its works on 28th July with an understanding between the group and the agitating journalists' body.

Newspapers were off the stands earlier for some time due to intimidation on the Sangai Express Churachandpur Correspondent S. Singlianmang Guite by armed Hmar People's Convention (D) in last week of July 2010. Way back in 2005, the Manipur Hill Journalists Union ceased publication of all Churachandpur-based newspapers from June 16 to 19 protesting against pressures from churachandpur based armed bodies.

Murders, assaults and kidnappings mark the history of the Press in Manipur. 'Kangla Lanpung' editor RK Sanatomba, 'Manipur News' editor Thounaojam Brajamani, editor of Hmar newspaper 'SHAN' A Lalrohlu Hmar, Yambem Megha of 'North East Vision' and sub-editor Konsham Rishikanta of 'Imphal Free Press' were legends exposing undue pressures on the state's media fraternity. Gunmen shot dead RK Sanatomba on 30 June 1993 at his gate and in October 1999, A Lalrohlu Hmar was killed by Hmar Revolutionary Army (HRA) cadres. Thounaojam Brajamani Singh, the then president of the Manipur State Journalists Association was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on August 20, 2000. Armed men killed Yambem Megha in Imphal on October 14, 2002. Konsham Rishikanta was suspiciously murdered on November 17, 2008. In February 2006, gunmen attacked 'Poknapham' dailies Ratan Luwangcha, the then general secretary of the All-Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU). On December 20, 2006, the editor and publisher of 'Kangla Pao' Paonam Labango Mangang was attacked in front of his office in Imphal.

In the infamous Rishikanta killing case, the government acted with an authoritarian attitude and complete disregard of the media community in spite of alleged suspicion of police involvement in the killing of the sub-editor and demands for a CBI probe thereon. Only after protests and demonstrations, the government conceded the journalists' demands on 1st December, 2008 as soon as an investigative team of journalists tabled its report regarding the killing incident.

In spite of identification as a journalist, security forces beat up Yumnam Ranjan, reporter of 'Sana Leibak' at his residence on the behest of dispersing protesting women groups on July 23, 2004. N Noren of 'The Sangai Express' and W Lukhoi of 'Mannaba' were brutally assaulted by CRPF personnel posted at Sajiwa jail on February 20, 2005 while covering an agitation. On March 14, 2007, Assam Rifles posted at Kotlien in Tamenglong district beat up 'Ireibak' dailies Th Brojen and ISTV's Gagaan by snatching away their cameras during coverage of a girl's rape case by an AR personnel.

Sitting MLA Bijoy Koijam had also luckily survived from a life attempt years back while he was working as a photo journalist. An insurgent group also bombarded the office of Pan Manipur Youth League where the newspaper 'Lamyanba' was supposed to be published. Former Editor of 'Hueiyen Lanpao' Bharat Bhushan, former editor of 'Naharolgee Thoudang' N Biren, editor of the 'Freedom' RK Ranendrajit, to mention a few, had to enjoy the state government's hospitality in jail on charges of sedition and threatening national security through their editorial contents which were never proved. In April 2000, Police arrested N Biren Singh, the then editor of 'Naharlogi Thoudang' for publishing the so-called 'seditious and anti-social' speech of social worker Th Iboyaima.

Harassment by security forces despite producing valid press cards has been a common tragedy facing the men-with-pen. Around 130 journalists surrendered their accreditation cards to the government protesting the police assault on two journalists on October 10, 2009. Threatening the duo to shoot and charging to have links with militants, police commandos arrested and physically assaulted them on their way back home at night.

In August 2007, the media community in Manipur protested against the government order prohibiting publication of items related to underground activities. The order cautioned the press not to publish items related to unlawful organizations, organized gangs and terrorist-related bodies. It prohibited publication of obituary notices for 'shradha', 'asti-sanchai', cremation and burial ceremonies of UG members, and also threats by unlawful organizations, any behavior or dress code or social practice decreed by unlawful organizations. Publications of any justification for killings, injuries, assaults, kidnappings, imposition of fines or warnings made by unlawful organizations and notices for payments or invitations to them were banned as per the Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The state Cabinet on August 10, 2007 amended the order following protests by the journalists for days.

It is obvious that the various pressure groups acknowledge the importance of the media in moulding their position in the society. Ironically, the media men have to encounter frequent hardships as they are in a sensitive profession highly valued by the society.

Dissatisfied with inadequate coverage of its statements, the UKLF kidnapped 'Hindu' correspondent Iboyaima Laithangbam and Y. Arun of 'Eastern Panorama' on October 8, 2002. Unidentified gunmen assaulted 'Star Sports' correspondent Obed Longvah on February 23, 2005 in Ukhrul district. On September 7, 2005, the proscribed KYKL imposed a ban on 'Matamgi Yakairol', 'Mannaba' and 'ISTV cable network' for alleged improper reporting on the abduction of president of Manipur University Students Union.

The press often fall victim of factional fights among numerous underground organizations operating in the state. In April 2006, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) held six newspaper editors hostage all the night forcing them to publish a statement about the outfit's "raising day" celebration which the editors had previously ignored. The KCP faction also clamped a three-month ban on the 'Imphal Free Press' for misquoting an earlier statement. Over a tussle between two factions of Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), a grenade in the guise of a nice gift was presented to the 'Sangai Express' editor on July 31, 2007. One of them wanted the statement of the other to be dropped from publication. The case came to a close on 5th August 2007 with the group assuring not to repeat the incident in future.

Death threat was imposed on the 'Sanaleibak' editor and AMWJU spokesperson A Mobi by the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Military Council which had two factions. The tussle was raised as one faction wanted its statement to be published and the other warned not to do so. All Manipur Working Journalists Union decided not to publish newspapers and demanded the group to apologize and to revoke the threat. It launched a three-day strike starting July 24, 2010, in protest against the threat.

'Threat to a journalist is threat to the whole media community and the society at large' is the circumstantially appeared slogan of the pressmen which signifies unity and social responsibility. Reporting conflicts is the greatest challenge for journalists in the state which has been reeling under the impact of insurgency for almost half a century. Caught between the devil and deep sea in the varied perception of both state and non-state actors, they perform their duties with great stress and strain. Journalists must be free to make decisions on what to publish or otherwise, if it is as per reasonable guidelines established by the Press Council of India.

Undue pressure on the press regarding coverage of an item or otherwise amounts to serious abridgment of the public right to know, besides contravening the journalists' professionalism. As people have the right to know and to seek authentic, objective and well-documented evidence-based information, it is the bounden duty of the press to feed people's communication needs freely with fairness and authenticity. (the article is filed under RK Maipaksana Journalist Fellowship)




* Seram Neken wrote this article for Hueiyenlanpao. This article was webcasted on January 23, 2011.

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