NEW GUY IN TOWN
This editorial was published by the Imphal Free Press on 9 Aug 2012
Not long ago, many of the offices of the newspaper dailies in Imphal were guarded by the VDF personnel following threats from some of the factions of the underground. A month back, they were withdrawn as the threat perception dimmed. Recently, a supposedly new group has come up with a threat to the editors of Imphal. But, editors are not taking it lying down and they have chosen to call the bluff along with the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU). The editors or for that matter the journalist community of the state are not new to threats or intimidation be it from the state or the non-state actors. It goes with the territory.
In a conflict ridden state like Manipur, journalists are facing tremendous pressure from both state and non-state actors with little maneuvering space. However, the journalists’ community has been responsibly discharging its duty delicately balancing the spirit of the freedom of press with its commitment to the laws of the land and responsibility to the people.
On 17 November 2008, a young IFP staffer Konsam Rishikanta Singh was found shot dead in a lonely road within the Greater Imphal area in the remote northeast Indian state of Manipur. Newspapers went off the stands for 13 days till the government came to senses by deciding to hand over the case to the New Delhi based Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). There are cases of intimidation of the press in 2009 like storming of some media houses in Imphal by goons of chief minister Shree Okram Ibobi Singh’s home constituency of Thoubal with active support from the state police force and threatening of two journalists returning home from duty at gun-point.
The pressure from non-state comes mostly from small factions in their bid to gain legitimacy through the media as some of them think that the media is a notice board for posting their threats and summons to their victims, and mud-slinging between these factions. In fact, the long drawn conflict and repressive policies of the state had brought its share of rag-tag bands and faction ridden groups. Their brand of revolution is based on extortion, kidnapping for ransom, kangaroo courts, bomb blasts and terror tactics.
In 2010, newspapers went off the stands for three days following a split in a faction of the proscribed Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP). The breakaway group wants to gain legitimacy as a group through the newspapers and the electronic media, while the original faction wants to stop the publication of the new group, both with threats, thereby resulting in a direct clash between the two groups and the media. The recent threat is of similar kind. The Military Defence Force (MDF) is a breakaway group of the Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and it turns out that this breakaway group has now three factions at the last count. While one faction has threatened the entire journalist fraternity and the newspaper distributors or hawkers, another has threatened the editors of the Imphal based daily newspapers. The latter faction had earlier threatened the editors to publish their statement ad verbatim. They do not seem to understand that gone are the days of verbatim publication of statements and that there is a code of ethics called the Press Council of India (PCI) guidelines and something called local adjustments to the code.
Therein lies the assumption of the editors and AMWJU that they are new to the scene. As they have their own codes or procedures whatever that may be, the journalist fraternity has also its code of ethics. If the groups do not respect our code, a standoff will naturally arise leading to unsavoury situations. In a conflict zone, the job of the journalist fraternity is a balancing act. That is exactly why, the journalist here have developed a code called local adjustments to the PCI guidelines. So, please back off so that we may continue with the job in hand.