Media musings


Only recently, media houses in the state have had to stop its work resulting in depriving the public of their access to news. Yet again, newspapers had to stop print for two days but for close to a week, many had to do without being able to read the day’s news and views since newspaper distributors and hawkers stopped their service. As in earlier instances, the working condition of the media in the state and various external forces operating in the state impacting on media operation and practices in the state led to the impasse. With an assorted variety of unlawful armed groups and their breakaway factions operating in the state, the synergy and dynamics in between them lead to media being caught in the middle. Often, the state media ends up being a soft target caught under the barrage of intimidations in terms of what it can carry and even in terms of where the certain news item is to be displayed and how long the text should be, no matter whether the given text is newsworthy or not. There have been numerous instances when warring groups or factions of a main group have leveled accusations against each other and insisted that only their version be carried and no one else. If the non state armed actors of the state have been overbearing in their dealing with the Manipur media, government agencies including the police and Army have cracked down on the functioning of the media by imposing their own version of ‘do’s and don’ts’ including standing instructions on forwarding press releases from unlawful organizations. There have been occasions where media houses have been pulled up by the Police Department and asked to disclose news sources. Recently, a Manipuri newspaper was asked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to hand over the original print/digital image of a picture carried by the paper in 2010. The NIA asked the editor of the said paper to name the photographer who had taken the photograph of the ‘raising day’ of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), a banned militant outfit. In cases where agencies of the Government clamp down on the media and try to muzzle its freedom, there can be recourses that one can resort to starting from raising the issue with various journalistic forums but when it is the non state forces that threaten and intimidate the media in its functioning, nothing much can be done except protest and bear with them as a job hazard. There have been seven documented cases of death amongst the media fraternity in the state and various other life attempts that were unsuccessful, which shows how the sector is being impacted.

When the media outlets cease to function in the face of the threats that comes its way, it becomes easy for observers and non media persons to take the stand that the state media is depriving the common people their right to information and news. What these non-media people do not realize is that when people in the media are being threatened over the phone and over SMS-es with dire consequences over their dictates not being followed, it first and foremost impinges on the freedom of the media and the editorial purview of what can be printed and what must be discarded. Secondly, it creates an atmosphere of uncertainty for those involved in the media sector: while earlier, only editors were put under threat to be followed by reporters, the recent situation  was one where desk staff and newspaper hawkers were at risk of getting caught in the middle. When a suspicious looking press release from a certain group that is being portrayed as the faction of another group claiming responsibility for a particular action came in to a few media houses, it was not entertained. This was met by SMS threats first to editors and then to the hawkers and distributors. When AMWJU and editors of media houses went ahead with their work but without printing the said release, the threat level to hawkers and newspaper distributors were raised with a date being marked. Newspapers lay unread and undistributed even as everyone associated with publishing a newspaper: reporters, desk and technical staff, put in their efforts to doing something that everyone knew would not make their way to the public. Thankfully, the media in the state rallied around each other and went about defiantly doing its work and that spirit of sticking with each other will be the only positive fall out of a sticky mess that may happen again.


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