AMWJU’s letter to PCI on safety issue

President of AMWJU, W Shamjai today submitted a memorandum to Chairperson PCI through Kosuri Amarnath Convenor, Sub-Committee on Safety of Journalists Press Council of India (PCI) New Delhi The content is reproduced below. The All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU), on behalf of the media community of Manipur, takes this opportunity to express our extreme […]

President of AMWJU, W Shamjai today submitted a memorandum to Chairperson PCI through Kosuri Amarnath
Convenor, Sub-Committee on Safety of Journalists Press Council of India (PCI) New Delhi
The content is reproduced below.
The All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU), on behalf of the media community of Manipur, takes this opportunity to express our extreme gratitude to the Press Council of India (PCI) for visiting our state with the intention of finding out about the threats to the freedom of media and the safety of journalists in Manipur. Indeed, in view of the ongoing conflict situation in the state and the frequent attacks on the freedom and integrity of the mediapersons in Manipur, your visit and investigation is a much required and highly anticipated event.
With the hope and expectations that you will act with sincerity and intervene to uphold the cause of a free media in Manipur, we would like to lay down a few points for your kind perusal:
Manipur, situated on the Indo-Myanmar border, is home to as many as 33 listed scheduled tribes and a number of unspecified tribes, apart from the Meities, Meitei Pangals (Muslims) and scheduled castes.
The 33 listed scheduled tribes are, again, broadly divided into the Naga and Chin-Kuki-Mizo groups. Among the Nagas, the most prominent ones are Tangkhul, Mao, Poumai, Rongmei, Lamkang, Zeme, Maring, Anal, Maram, Thangal and Liangmei, while Thadou, Simte, Gangte, Vaiphei, Paite, Hmar, Khongsai, Sitlou, etc, constitute the important Kuki tribes.
Thus, multiple histories, multiple cultures and multiple identities are spread out and struggling for recognition within a small geographical territory of 22,327 sq km.
An unfortunate by-product of these inherent complexities and certain insensitive governmental policies
is that, today, there are more than 40 underground outfits operating within the state. This situation is further aggravated by the militaristic response of the Centre and state government. Laws such as the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958 are enforced to help the security forces in their mission — AFSPA has been in force in the hills since 1961 and in the valley (except for the Imphal municipality area) since 1980. Thus the conflict has been heightened instead of resolved.
It would be interesting to note here that the peoples’ movement in the 1930s led by Hijam Irabot, which is regarded as the first resistance movement in Manipur also gave birth to its media industry. The first recorded event in the history of the print media in Manipur is publication of the journal Meitei Chanu by Hijam Irabat in the mid-1920s. Hand-stencilled and cyclostyled by Irabat himself, the publication
survived for only a few editions. During the 1930s and 1940s, a number of publications came out including Yakairol, Lalit Manjuri Patrika, Bheigyabati Patrika, Dainik Manipur, Manipur Matam, Manipur Paojel, Ngashi, Praja, Anouba Yug, and Meitei Leima, although most enjoyed only a short lifespan. These were followed, in the post-Independence era, by political papers like Prajatantra and Simanta Patrika.
Today Manipur is considered one of the top states in eastern India regarding media presence, with around 30 news dailies and journals, a remarkable number of home cable networks, correspondents and stringers for various national and international news agencies.
Majority of the private media houses in Manipur are print media publishing daily newspapers, eveningers and news magazines. Satellite channels like ISTV in Imphal, Image TV in Thoubal and Hornbill in Churachandpur are representatives of the private electronic media. Of course, DDK and AIR are the
state-run electronic media.
Most of the private mediahouses in the state are mostly small business enterprises. Initially these used to be run by political organizations (eg: Prajatantra and Simanta Patrika).
However the last few years has seen a major change in the profile of the mediahouses with more and more moneyed
businesspersons/organizations entering into the field.
Despite this, the working condition of the mediapersons almost remains the same. There are no shift systems and most journalists work from early in the morning (sometimes starting at 5-6 am for an early or out-of-station coverage) and ending in the wee hours of the night. The starting pay for most journalists is minimal, and even after many years on the job, the pay is basic and perks are very few. Though a pension policy has been recently initiated by the Government in collaboration with AMWJU, there are no health insurance or accident-related schemes taken up by the state government or the mediahouses, and in many cases, journalists with prolonged illness are either terminated from the job or have been forced to be on leave without pay for the period of their illness. Special considerations for women journalists such as drop-home services and maternity leave are yet to be discussed.
All these conditions notwithstanding, the media community of Manipur has been working with integrity to fulfill its responsibility of being the watchdog of the society. Ironically, it is this growing awareness of the media as a powerful platform that is now threatening press freedom in the state – as both the state and non-state actors try to control the flow of information and/or misinformation to the masses.
Underground insurgent groups operating in the state, which earlier relied on pamphlets and word-of-mouth as the major means of spreading their ideas and diktats, are now turning to newspapers and news channels to carry their statements and propaganda to a larger audience. The state military too takes the media on guided tours of areas “cleared of insurgents,” press briefings, display of arms captured during operations, and surrender ceremonies, while also relentlessly bombarding the press with their media releases about their “civic action programmes.” Failure to adhere to the new rules of propaganda warfare has led to frequent harassment of mediapersons, in the form of killings, bombings, life attempts, assault and arrests.
From 1993 till date, as many as seven journalists have been shot dead in Manipur. There has been numerous life attempts, bombings, etc, and almost every day there are threats over the phone, and pressure from the underground outfits in Manipur. In most cases, mediapersons respond with dharnas, suspension of publication, blank editorials, rallies and demands to the government for a safe atmosphere to work in. Each time, the threat is withdrawn but
working conditions for journalists remain the same as most outfits believe it is their moral right and duty to pressurize newspapers into carrying their press releases the way they want them carried.
The state too has freely squeezed the media. During the 1950s, government actions such as seizing papers, imposing fines, closure of printing presses and imprisonment of editors were commonplace following any criticism of the government. During the 1970s, when the underground movements began to spread, the seizure of press material and arrests of journalists were routine. Two editors – Salam Bharatbhusan of Hueiyen Lanpao and Meinam Mithai of Matam – were even booked under the National Security Act and imprisoned for six months. In April 2000, N Biren Singh, currently a minister and formerly the editor ofNaharlogi Thoudang, was arrested by the state police for publishing a speech by activist Th Iboyaima, on charges of it being ‘seditious’ and ‘anti-national’.
For over a week in July-August 2007, journalists were sitting in dharna in protest of a ‘bomb gift’ sent to the Sangai Express after it refused to publish an insurgent group’s press release. Yet on 2 August, the state government passed an order against the publication of news items “directly attributed to unlawful organisations, organised gangs, organisations, terrorists and terrorist-related organisations considered to be subversive and a threat to the integrity of the state and the country.” The order even included obituary notices. This created a dire situation for the integrity of the media.
On December 23, 2012 Thangjam Dwijamani @ Nanao was killed in the police firing during an indefinite general strike imposed by various organizations protesting against the alleged molestation of a film actress by a self-styled Lt Col of NSCN-IM at a musical event on December 18. What was more significant about his death was that if not for the fact that his camera was rolling and caught his shooter in the face; his killing would have been passed off as a collateral damage or even worse, implicated him as a rioter, intent on causing communal violence. In fact his last minutes of tape saved his honour as a mediaperson who was killed in the line of duty.
On August 10, 2013, the National Investigation Agency, under The Ministry of Home Affairs, Guwahati, Assam issued an order to the Editor, Naharolgi Thoudang asking the mediahouse to produce a copy of a photograph related to the 32nd raising day of underground group PLA published in the newspaper on September 25, 2010, as well as name and details of the reporter who had taken the photograph.
Barely a fortnight later, on August 24, a faction of an underground group, called Military Defence Force (MDF) -Thouba Group issued ‘drastic action’ – meaning life threats – against not only mediapersons but also the newspaper hawkers and distributors and their families for not publishing their press release. In the said press release the group had claimed their hand in killing an auto-driver, and the mediapersons under the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) had chosen to abide by their local code of conduct.
This is the first time that hawkers and distributors are being threatened, probably because the journalists refused to kowtow to the demand of the underground groups. For many days things were at an impasse as hawkers could not move about freely and distribute the newspapers. This made the editors of the newspapers take charge and sell the newspapers themselves, to show that they will stick by their stand. Though the hawkers are back at work, the threat of the underground group still exists till date.
Such attitudes of the state government and its police/army as well as the underground groups towards journalists are symptomatic of the growing lack of space for free expression in Mampur. While the state responds to people’s movements demanding justice with curfews, teargas, mock bombs and rubber bullets, there is a lingering silence on the side of the people regarding the actions of the underground groups, the silence being enforced either due to fear or mandatory acceptance.
Like the average person in the state, the media fraternity in Manipur too has been trying to face the challenges thrown up by the ongoing conflict in their own way. To preserve freedom of the press, the AMWJU has drawn up safeguards, including proper identification of sources, official invitations for press conferences, press releases to be duly signed with the organisation’s seal on the letterhead, setting a timeline for submission of press releases. The media has also asserted its rights to take editorial decisions to withhold news “if the arguments and counter-arguments become harmful to the state and could claim human lives.”
This self-censorship, though controversial, must be seen in the context of the precarious sociopolitical condition of the state. However, these rules do not seem to have worked very well as the militants have their own tactics by which to get their press releases published, keeping the press constitution and rules intact.
In fact, the life of a journalist in Manipur and his/her responsibility to uphold the sanctity and freedom of the press has become increasingly difficult and dangerous due to the pressure from all sides. And it is in this regard that the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU), on behalf of the media community of Manipur, takes this opportunity to press for your urgent attention and timely intervention with regards to the media and the journalists community of the state by focusing your kind attention on the recommendations listed below :-
1. Manipur State government must strengthen protection for journalists and act swiftly to prosecute those responsible
2. Manipur State government must ensure a safe working atmosphere for journalists in the state
3. Improvement of working conditions of journalists in the state
4. A medical/health scheme to cover illness-related expenses of the journalists and their family
5. Adequate compensation in case of killing/injury for the journalists as they are working in adverse conditions
6. Press colony for safety of media persons. Manipur government is willing to create such a colony
7. Better working condition and remuneration for working journalists, by making a special provision for small states like Manipur where media business is small and revenue limited
8. Provident fund for working journalists
9. Revision of journalists pension amount (at present a retired journalist gets Rs. 2000 and widow of a journalist Rs. 1000 per month)
10. Security protection for media team visiting militant infested interior areas, for rural reporting etc.

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