Though named as Editors Guild of India (EGI), the acclaimed national forum of editors does not have members in all states of the vast country. The recent controversy relating to the EGI reflects a poor side of the organization in that it seemingly has no representative in the state of Manipur in northeast India. With more to add, the EGI has been publicly condemned by the working journalists and editors, who are mostly based in Imphal, for a recent report prepared by a team of EGI members after visiting the Myanmar bordering state.
Founded in 1978 with objectives to protect press freedom and raise the standard of editorial leadership for newspapers and periodicals in the largest democracy on Earth, the EGI today faces allegations of possessing biased observations on ethnic conflicts in Manipur and even flaring up turmoil with its initiative. Even the EGI had to approach the Supreme Court for instant relief to its members, who were the part of a fact-finding mission and subsequently faced two police complaints lodged in Manipur. The team members along with EGI president were extended interim protection from any coercive action action till 11 September.
The debates began as the EGI released a report on 2 September after it’s three-member fact-finding team visited Manipur from 7 to 10 August to study media coverage of the ongoing conflicts between the majority Meiteis and Kuki-Chin-Zo community that has already snatched away the lives of over 150 individuals, wounded many more residents and also displaced thousands of families as their villages were under attacks since 3 May. The report slammed the internet ban and criticized the State authorities’ partisan role during the conflicts. The EGI observed that local media reporting was slightly inclined to the largely Vaisnavite Meitei community, which constitutes over 50% Manipur population and primarily settles in Imphal Valley (the rest belongs to Kuki and Naga people living in surrounding hills areas).
There is a Meitei government, Meitei police and Meitei bureaucracy in Imphal and the tribal people have no faith in them, stated the EGI report, which invited strong reaction from the State government and the local media fraternity terming it ‘incorrect and false’.
Soon two police complaints were lodged against the EGI’s fact-finding team members (Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan, and Sanjay Kapoor) along with their president Seema Mustafa citing various IPC sections for provoking enmity between different communities and deliberate attempts to flare up religious sentiments. The FIRs were reportedly filed by Ngangom Sarat Singh (a retired government engineer turned social worker) and Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, a resident of Imphal. Ms Sangita even urged the government to request for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the case.
Meanwhile, two major media bodies of Manipur also denounced the allegations floated by the EGI in its report, which was completed in four days. All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) and Editors Guild Manipur (EGM) took a strong exception to the ‘half-baked’ report where the Imphal-based journalists were misrepresented. Both the organizations, while releasing a joint media statement, urged the EGI to issue a clarification, otherwise they had resolved to go for legal actions against the national body.
Speaking to this writer from Imphal, Rinku Khumukcham, the editor of Imphal Times, clarified that the Manipur government has not lodged till date any FIR against the EGI members as widely reported by various media outlets and journalists’ organizations based in New Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. He however admitted that Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh during a press briefing on 4 September, after appealing to all residents of the State to maintain peace and tranquility, strongly condemned the EGI report on media coverage of the turmoil that gripped the State for over four months.
Even though the EGI expressed shock over the police complaints as well as harsh reactions by CM Singh against their report, it’s understood that the EGI team, which went there to study the role of Manipur media outlets in reporting the ethnic conflicts but went beyond its mandate to analyse the causes of ethnic violence in Manipur. It even quoted an unidentified Kuki individual who alleged that the Imphal-based journalists took dictations from the chief minister’s office. Moreover, the EGI report criticized the Union government for not dismissing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Imphal and impose President’s rule in Manipur.