Manipur Violence: The Battle for Truthful Reporting

Manipur Violence: EGI’s report, Government Overreach, and the Battle for Truthful Reporting

Manipur Violence | Amidst state-sponsored narratives and between information and intimidation, the question remains: Who will tell Manipur's story?
First Published: Sep 07,2023 02:42PM
by Prema Sridevi
Protest against Manipur violence

Protest against Manipur violence | Photo courtesy: EPA

“It is well known that the mob did not loot the police armouries. The weapons were given to them by the police on orders of the state’s government”… 

“Meira Paibis, the Meitei women agitators, have become the cheerleaders of violent mobs attacking Kuki homes. Video clips where Meira Paibis have urged the youth to rape and molest Kuki women have surfaced… They are so powerful that they not only prevent the security forces from working but they also check ID-cards of the Assam Rifles personnel and search their vehicles in a bid to hunt for Kukis hiding with them”… 

“A reporter from the Hills confided that even when he was able to send in his reports, they were “used selectively” by his Imphal-based newspaper”… 

“Most of the newspapers and news channels in the Valley took ‘dictation’ from Chief Minister Biren Singh’s office”… 

These were some of the unsettling insights revealed by the three-member fact-finding mission of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) that investigated the media’s coverage of the Manipur violence. The mission consisted of senior journalists: Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor, an Executive Committee Member of EGI and Bharat Bhushan, another representative from the Guild. Between August 7 and 10, the trio visited Manipur to critically evaluate the media’s role in reporting the violence that transpired there.

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To ascertain the veracity of claims that the media in Manipur was biased and potentially divisive, the team interacted with many stakeholders, including reporters, editors, members of the Editors Guild of Manipur, representatives from the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, civil society activists, public intellectuals, women impacted by the conflict, tribal representatives, and officials from the security forces active in Manipur.

The Manipur government, already under scrutiny for compounding the violence, once again displayed its habitual response by filing at least two FIRs against the three members of the EGI’s team that wrote the report and also against the President of the Guild. The FIR, lodged under various sections of the IPC and PC Act, accuses the team of promoting enmity between different groups. It further alleges them “of injuring or defiling places of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class… and making statements leading to public mischief.” While the government is entitled to its disagreements with the content of the EGI report, levying such grave charges against the team only exposes its sheer brazenness and the blatant misuse of its powers.

Although the EGI has the authority to independently initiate a fact-finding mission, in this instance, it wasn’t a spontaneous decision. The move to deploy the fact-finding team to Manipur came in response to numerous grievances from various factions. Notably, the Indian Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters submitted a written complaint, expressing concerns that the media in Manipur was displaying a biased stance in the ongoing ethnic conflict, potentially obstructing the path to peace. 

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Though the Supreme Court extended interim protection from arrest to the President and the EGI team that came out with the report, asserting that no forceful actions can be made against the petitioners until Monday, September 11, the filing of the FIRs itself is a worrisome precedent, especially in a state marred by persistent conflict over many months. State Chief Minister N Biren Singh had previously cautioned the Editors Guild regarding their fact-finding mission, even suggesting how it should be carried out. In a glaring overreach of its authority, the government went as far as to lodge an FIR invoking Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which was annulled by the Supreme Court way back in 2015. This move is particularly ill-advised given the multiple directives from the apex court to police forces across states to refrain from using this obsolete section.

While the EGI did make an oversight in the caption of a photo, mistakenly indicating that smoke was emanating from a Kuki home when it was actually from a forest official’s residence, they acknowledged and rectified the mistake. The Guild admitted the error on X platform, stating, “we regret the error that crept in at the photo editing stage.” However, for the government to single out the Guild based on their report and to subsequently file an FIR against them showcases nothing short of heavy-handed tactics being deployed against people who don’t toe the government line.

This isn’t the first time a fact-finding team has faced legal consequences after releasing a report on Manipur violence. Previously, in July, Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu, and Deeksha Dwivedi from the National Federation of Indian Women’s team faced legal action. Their report claimed Manipur was undergoing “state-sponsored violence.”

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Apart from the action on the journalists, over the last many months, the state government has only aggravated Manipur violence by appearing to favour one side in the conflict between the majority Meitei community and the minority Kuki-Chin-Zo community. Alarmingly, the government has labelled the Kuki-Zo tribals as illegal immigrants and even branded them as foreigners in the past. Through a string of biased statements and policies, they have successfully directed the majority community’s discontent towards the minority group. This is also stated by the EGI in its report.

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh is culpable for not only failing to restrain the violence but also for intensifying it. Instead of being held accountable, the EGI in its report states that the Central government surprisingly appointed him as the primary authority to oversee the state and quell the unrest. Even the Security Advisor designated by the Centre, along with the unified command established by the Union Home Minister, reported to the CM. The EGI report states, “In addition to the Manipur police forces under his command, he also had Assam Rifles reporting to him. Having caused the problem, he was rewarded by making him in-charge of finding the solution”.

The EGI isn’t alone in pointing out the bias of state media in covering Manipur violence. Many international and national media outlets have criticised the Manipur media for aligning too closely with the state government. The majority of media in Manipur is under Meitei influence. After a point, the state government opted to curtail media power – including the few outlets practising good journalism – by suspending the internet. This action in turn intensified the violence instead of curbing it. The internet suspension hindered digital media from publishing and made it difficult for newspaper correspondents in the state to relay information to their head offices. This communication barrier paved the way for rampant rumour-mongering, resulting in a surge of violent incidents and subsequent reprisals.

Following its fact-finding mission, the EGI has reported that during Manipur violence, some of the state’s journalists predominantly penned one-sided stories. The EGI team observed that some of the media in Manipur seemingly transformed into a Meitei-centric platform during the conflict, with editors collaborating and agreeing on a unified narrative or language to recount events. The state government displayed evident partiality during the conflict. There’s a predominance of the Meitei community in the government, police, and bureaucracy in Imphal, leading to a deep-seated lack of trust among the tribal people residing in the Hills.

The EGI’s report cites over ten instances of local media disseminating fake news and misinformation. Although both the All Manipur Working Journalists Union and the Editors Guild of Manipur have criticised the EGI fact-finding report as being incomplete and questioned the brevity of the four-day investigation, such reports are ultimately subjective. In a democracy, while one can either endorse or reject these findings, it’s worrisome if journalists face threats or muzzling of their voices — such an environment is detrimental to the nation’s democratic ethos.

While the Manipur media and the state government may take issue with the EGI report, demonising journalists for their efforts to assess the ground reality is deeply concerning. There have been whispers from some government quarters, suggesting an inquiry into the funding sources of the EGI team. This approach is unmistakably a tactic of intimidation. Such strong-arm measures not only target entities like the EGI but also send a cautionary message to journalists nationwide that reporting on Manipur violence that does not toe the government’s line could invite hostility, legal repercussions, and potentially even arrest. This environment is not only dangerous for journalism but also undermines democracy.


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