Violations of rights of journalists in Manipur (Prevention of press freedom in Manipur)

Written By: / Articles / Thursday, 13 January 2022 16:51

Introduction:
With the advancement of communication technology and development of multiple channel for reaching out to people, the idea of the framer of the constitution of India, which he even felt the importance of press no longer is relevant today unless the constitution of India defines who are the journalists. The regulations and guidelines which need to be followed while setting up print or electronic media houses today seems irrelevant again with the fast growing internet facilities as well as other electronic media which cannot be controlled in practice, is creating confusion on who should be certified as journalist as anybody writes today. We all know that other professions – like our learned Advocates, or doctors who treat patients, or engineers who build roads and buildings all required a specific legitimate qualification. But today, anybody become journalist no matter from which subjects he or she has been trained. And this is allowed by our Constitution which makes no difference from a common citizen , as there is no specific provision called “Freedom of Press” in the Constitution of India as found in the American Constitution. We all know that that time the framer of the Constitution of India had already understand on why the 1st amendment of the American constitution include “Freedom of Press”
The point that need to be remembered here is that Freedom of press is not specifically mentioned in article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India and what is mentioned there is only freedom of speech and expression. In the Constituent Assembly Debates it was made clear by Dr. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, that no special mention of the freedom of press was necessary at all as the press and an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned.
What specific provisions protect the rights of the Journalists in India?
We all know that our nation today show so much concern about the role of media in the running of government. If not officially announced, the media/press is often termed as the fourth estate of democracy. But the irony is that there is no provision found in the constitution of India on who should be called journalists who are working either at print or electronic media. There has not been a single law or any provision found in the constitution of India for the protection of journalist community in the country. The so called provisions provided under Article 19 (1) (a) mentioned about freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed to all the citizens of India, with some limitations. We all know that Article 19(1)(2) also stated that various matters that affect - Sovereignty and integrity of the State, Security of the State, Friendly relations with foreign countries, Public order, Decency and morality, Contempt of court, Defamation, and Incitement to an offence are forbidden to express in any medium of mass media.
The Supreme Court of India has already held that there is no specific provision ensuring freedom of the press separately but this freedom of the press is regarded as a species of which freedom of expression is a genus.
Therefore, press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed on any private citizen, and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen.
Leaving aside the laws that suppress the freedom of press or say freedom of speech and expression, since the time of emergency (1975 to 1977), Journalists have been the most surveillance citizen of the country. There were reports about imposing censorship laws to newspapers and those failed to follow or wrote against the government were reported imprisoned. The exact number of how many journalists have been thrown to jail during those period is not officially known but certain all together nearly 200 of them including the activists, opposition political party leaders and other writers of that time including Kuldip Nayar, senior editor at The Indian Express were arrested.
After emergency too certain laws like sedition laws, NSA etc. still continue to be used by successive governments till today. Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution do mention about the protection of not only the journalists but also the citizens who stand up and express criticism to the government. But then, the Sedition law (Section 124 A (IPC)) and others like the NSA are still used as a tool to silence any voice of dissents against the government till today.
As per report by The International Press Institute (IPI), which is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, Dhaval Patel, owner and editor of the Gujarati news portal “Face of Nation”, was detained and charged with sedition for writing an article about the possibility of leadership change in Gujarat due to an increasing number of coronavirus cases in the state. Patel was charged under Section 124 A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and Disaster Management Act Section 54 (spreading false panic), on May 11, 2020.
On May 10, Delhi police summoned Mahender Singh Manral, a correspondent of The Indian Express newspaper, for a report about police investigation into the possibility that an audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, had been doctored.
On August 2018, Sudha Bharadwaj (lawyer and trade unionist), Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira, all prominent Rights Activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
(Provided here is the details about their arrest - https://thewire.in/rights/police-take-sudhabharadwaj-into-custody-raid-homes-of-lawyers-activists-across-cities)
There were and are many other similar cases of journalists being detained or harassed on certain charges using independent agencies.
When it comes to the state of Manipur, the then Editor of the Vernacular daily – Naharolgi Thoudang (present Chief Minister of Manipur) Nongthombam Biren was arrested in April 2000 for publication of a speech by social activist Th. Iboyaima on charge of Sedition and anti-national. Both were put in jail for a month and released by revoking case following protest by the people of the state.
Earlier during 1980-81, the founder editor of the Hueiyen Lanpao newspaper Salam Bharat Bhusan and the Editor of “Matam” Meinam Mithai, were booked under NSA for reporting news related to Undrground (UG) activities and imprisoned for 3 months. (The case was however revoked). On May 9, 1999 a rally was organized against the closure of a printing house and detention of two editors of monthly magazine by police on charge of having nexus with the underground elements.
On April 27, 2011 the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) conducted a surprise raid at the office of Ireibak daily newspaper published by Lamyanba Publication Trust located at Palace Compound, Imphal. A reporter of Kangla Pao, an evening daily, Yambem Biren was arrested from his house by a team of Assam Rifles on September 10, 2003. Yambem Biren was reportedly picked up without any charges. After intervention of the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU) he was however released on the same day.
On August 14, 2004 the state government banned broadcast of ISTV the then only cable news service for telecasting peoples’ protest against AFSPA.
On February 20, 2005 personnel of the 130th CRPF brutally assaulted N. Noren Singh (Reporter of Sangai Express) and W. Lukhoi ( reporter Mannaba) while they were covering an agitation by Meitei Rivivalists group at Sajiwa Jail, Manipur.
On May 14, 2007 personnel of the 38thAssam Rfiles posted at Kotlien in Tamenglong district snatched the cameras of Th. Brojen ( Reporter Ireibak Daily) and G. Gagan Sharma of ISTVwhile they were on duty covering news of an alleged rape case (allegedly committed by AR jawan) . AMJWU reports say that the two were also brutally assaulted and along with another Journalist of Sangai Express daily (Bokul) they were detained and harassed.
In October 2008, the then DGP (Yumnam Joykumar) now the deputy Chief Minister of Manipur summoned functionaries of the AMWJU and the Editors and forced them to reveal the name of those reporters who published a news stories regarding urea smuggling which allegedly involved state force. In the same year, that was in October 2008, the then IFCD Minister N. Biren Singh (Former Editor of Naharolgi Thoudang) humiliated and scolded a reporter of Poknapham Newspaper in front of other reporters in connection with the reporting of a retaining wall constructed at Moirangkhom. ISTV news had broadcasted what the minister had aggressively scolded and intimidated the reporter on the day.
In October 28, 2009, (late) Khelen Thokchom, the correspondent of The Telegraph newspaper of that time was threatened and detained at Tera Bazar in Imphal West district by personnel of 3rd IRB even after showing his Identity card.
On August 10, 2013 the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had asked the Editor of Naharolgi Thoudang , to produce a copy of a photograph related to the 32nd raising day of underground group PLA, which was published on September 25, 2010. The Editor, Kh. Loyalakpa was also asked to name the reporter who filed the story.
There are more cases regarding violations to the rights of journalists and obstructions on their duties by state agencies which are not recorded after resolving the matter with the concern government authority.
As the framer of the Indian constitution Dr. Ambedkar had already stated that no special mention of the freedom of press was necessary at all as the press and an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned there are no specific laws to protect the freedom of journalists. When the freedom journalists who are the spinal cords of the newspaper of media houses are not protected, how could it be ensured the freedom of press?
Even the Supreme Court of India had held that there is no specific provision ensuring freedom of the press separately but this freedom of the press is regarded as a species of which freedom of expression is a genus.
“Therefore, press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed on any private citizen, and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen.” (Ref: -https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2906- comparison-of-indian-and-american-freedom-of-press.html)
Attempt to silence the journalists
In this age of investigative journalism, the law of the nation does not grant reporters immunity from disclosing material received from confidential sources. This means that journalist can be put behind bars for refusing to tell where they get their information.
There seems to be a paradigm shift to the concept of Media as an indispensable pillar of democracy. It was believed that media provides public opinion and shapes it without partiality. Media today has been used as tools for self gain of giant corporate houses, political parties, highly influential personality etc.
However, control of media by either owner of the corporate houses or the politicians, it is always next to impossible to silence the media. That must be the reason for the establishment to impose certain laws to curtail the free speech and expression to curtain the media. Controversial sedition laws (Article 124 A, 153 B of the Indian Penal Code), National Security Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, etc. are some of the tools of the establishment to control the free speech particularly free reporting by journalist community. According to a report available in Scroll.in154 journalists were arrested or faced government hostilities between 2010 and 2020. 40% of these journalists were reported either to have arrested or faced hostilities in 2020 alone. Most of those journalists are from among those who refused to bow for mercy of the so called powerful individuals who wanted to control media. In today’s India there are reports of government utilising various statutory or autonomous bodies or even the judiciary to curtail the voice of journalists. But the fact is that all those machineries when left with no means came to media to seek justice. We all know how four senior judges of the Supreme Court of India –Justice J Chelameswar, Justice RanjanGogoi, Justice MB Lokur and Justice Kurian Joshep – all top and high profile judge of the highest court of the country came to press on January 18, 2018 mounting a virtual protest against the Chief Justice Dipak Mishra.
The other threats and intimidation :
As per record from the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union from June 1993 till December 2012, at least 7 (seven) journalists were killed while on duty. Among them 6 were killed by unidentified gunmen while one died in police firing to control agitation. As per record available with the AMWJU as many as 30 cases of journalist being kidnapped, media houses threatened with bombs, assault to journalists happened in the state. All perpetrators are either armed rebel groups. (copy of the list is enclosed here separately).
Recent threat at Poknapham newspaper (2019) has forced the media houses to work under the protection of the state security forces. For months during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was to begin almost all media houses were provided security personnel to guard their offices.
Conclusion:
In order to make sure that mediapersons work freely without any intimidation, the nation today needs to frame a certain regulations on the qualification of who should be a journalist and subsequently some provisions either by amending the constitution of India or through a legislation to make sure that journalist is a profession that the country’s law makers often called it “fourth estate of democracy”. It is not about granting special privilege but to make sure that media officially becomes the fourth estate of our nation.

About the Author

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 25+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents. Rinku can be contacted at [email protected] 

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