GUN VERSUS PEN
A Brief History of Press Freedom in Manipur by Seram Neken
This article was originally published by the Imphal Free Press on 15 Aug 2012
By being a good friend of the poor, the deprived, the downtrodden and the neglected, media has become the notorious enemy of the corrupt and the anti-socials. In trying to maintain its ideal features of fairness, authenticity and social responsibility, media has always been offended by many individuals and groups. Still people in the media tolerate the attacks on its freedom for social good. Its mission is rather to counter the evils in the society. Pen alone is the available weapon of the media.
Newspapers were off the stands on 13th August last as reaction to the bomb attack on the president of All Manipur Working Journalists Union some days back. There have also been strong reactions of the media fraternity against the bomb hoax in two newspaper offices of the state a week back. The threat on the media by an underground organization was also reported earlier. Common people, mostly readers and listeners in the nook and corner now condemn such acts against the media freedom.
Media fraternity in Manipur has often been the soft target for the conflict between the state and the non-state actors. Newspaper publication in Manipur is many a time disrupted for one or the other reasons. In 2010, publication works in Churachandpur district were halted 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.
Newspapers were also 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. Gunmen shot dead Kangla Lanpung Editor RK Sanatomba on 30 June 1993 at his gate and in October 1999, editor of Hmar newspaper ‘SHAN’ A Lalrohlu Hmar was killed by Hmar Revolutionary Army (HRA) cadres. Manipur News’ editor 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 of ‘North East Vision’ in Imphal on October 14, 2002. Sub-editor Konsham Rishikanta of ‘Imphal Free Press’ 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 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’ daily’s Th Brojen and ISTV’s Gagaan by snatching away their cameras during coverage of a girl’s rape case by an AR personnel.
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. Protesting against the police assault on two journalists on October 10, 2009, around 130 journalists surrendered their accreditation cards to the government.
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 organisations, organised 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.
In April 2006, an underground organization 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.
All Manipur Working Journalists Union launched a three-day strike starting July 24, 2010, in protest against the death threat imposed on the ‘Sanaleibak’ editor and AMWJU spokesperson A Mobi by an UG group. The tussle was raised as one faction of the group wanted its statement to be published and the other warned not to do so.
Media is the fourth basic requirement of modern democracy. Citizens take part in governance in modern democracy by electing their representatives for a certain period. It is the ardent requirement of a representative democracy that its people are well conversed with what their representatives are doing. Those in government also need to know what their people want to do. An independent media serves both the purposes – to inform the people of what the government is doing and to report to the government what its people react and wish. Without media, the distance between the governed and the governors will become too wide to bring in people’s government.
Apart from being the fourth estate of a democracy, media unites people around the globe. The world has been reduced to a small village by means of various channels of communication. Barring differences of language, culture, race and nationalities, people everywhere can share and react to any eventuality happening in the nook and corner of the earth in no time. The human race has become closer to one another via the media. Media today is also keeping a strong vigil on the misdeeds, commissions and omissions of individuals and organizations everywhere. A number of scandals and scams can not escape the eyes of the media. The power of media has become so strong that it can up-keep, overthrow and correct various regimes around the world. The society that neglects the importance of media will never prosper in any field.