Slur on Imphal-based media?

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Regional Media | 05/06/2010
Have the local journalists too succumbed to the inherent sentiments of ‘us’ and ‘them’? Or are they still unsullied and stand firm on the values of objectivity?
TERESA REHMAN reports on the allegations being levelled on the media in Imphal.
The economic blockade by Naga groups on the main arterial routes, has crippled life in Manipur for over a month. While the Meiteis of Manipur stand firm on the issue of territorial integrity, the Nagas insist on integration of the Naga-dominated areas, leading to an impasse. On April 12, the All-Naga Students' Association of Manipur (ANSAM) initiated a blockade in protest against Manipur's decision to hold Autonomous District Council (ADC) elections in tribal-dominated hill districts after a gap of 20 years.

Naga groups intensified the blockade on NH39 and NH53 after Manipur refused to permit NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his ancestral village, Somdal, in the state's Ukhrul district. Two Naga protesters were killed when security forces fired at a protest rally against the state cabinet decision to bar NSCN(IM) leader Th Muivah from making the visit. The blockade has created an unprecedented crisis in Manipur, with shortages of all essentials, including life saving drugs, foodstuffs and fuel.

As decades of antagonism and fissures come alive and common people get alienated along ethnic lines, the moot question remains -- Has this ethnic prejudice also crept into the local media? Have local journalists too succumbed to the inherent sentiments of 'us' and 'them'? Or are they still unsullied and stand firm on the values of objectivity? News reports by the local media become crucial, especially since it is often the only source of information, when the so-called national media is oblivious to events here. Manipur has over 18 newspapers that often have to face the wrath of state as well as non-state actors.

It would appear that the schism seems imminent in the local media as well. Naga groups based in Manipur feel their side of the story is not being told. Matters have reached a point where the United Naga Council (UNC) -- the apex body of the Naga frontal organisations in Manipur -- has questioned the neutrality of the Imphal-based media and accused them of "being biased in their reporting and coverage of events and of being hand in glove with the Government of Manipur in the campaign against the Nagas".

However, it's interesting to note that the Imphal-based media have been highlighting the censure against themselves. According to a news report published in the Imphal-based daily, The Sangai Express, the UNC referred to the May 6 incident at Mao Gate, in which two students were killed in police firing. UNC President Samson Remei has alleged  that "PTI, Imphal had fed concocted stories to the national media, stating that the two students were killed in a stampede. It even went to the extent of changing the genders of the victims", Remei stated.

Pointing out that such biased reporting is against the ethics of journalism, Remei went on to accuse the Imphal-based media of blanking out views and articles from the Nagas. He also stated that "the Imphal-based media, which captured the police brutality on videos and cameras were not published. It was police brutality in full display and not a communal confrontation and hence should have been exposed."

"The injustice, the insults and humiliation on the Naga people do not deserve exposure to the world, in the eyes of the Imphal-based media.", he said, citing it as an attempt to suppress the voice of the Naga people.

Earlier, on May 31 The Sangai Express carried a news report titled "Video footage of Mao Gate case screened before Ukhrul public, slur cast on Imphal-based scribes". According to the news report, the Media Cell of Tangkhul Co-ordination Committee (TCC) organized a video screening in order to sensitise the public about the May 6 Mao Gate incident.

"Some of the highlights of the video footage are :Muivah entering Viswema village, silent protest of the Naga people of the areas at Mao, IRB and Commando personnel of Manipur harassing and firing at peaceful protesters and the last funeral rites of the two victims -- Loshou and Chakho -- that was attended by many Naga civil organizations; mass protest at Mao denouncing the excesses of the Manipur Government, burning of effigies of O Ibobi, protesters storming Manipur Bhavan, and reaffirming their stand to welcome Muivah under any circumstances etc."

The news report quoted TCC convenor, N Solomon, who said it had become necessary to initiate a video screening programme to expose the truth behind the May 6 Mao Gate incident where peaceful Naga protesters demanding their rights were brutally assaulted by the Manipur State police forces claiming the lives of two Naga innocent students.

Solomon also urged the media in the state to adhere to the ethics of journalism. "The Imphal Valley-based scribes who were stationed at the spot failed to expose the factual picture of the incident.", he alleged. More than 20 journalists were present at the spot while the unfortunate incident took place on May 6th, 2010. However, compromising their journalistic ethics, none of the Imphal valley-based reporters came out with the true picture of the incident, he said. "This kind of report is a tailored story which is biased in nature", he is quoted as saying. The Sangai Express quoted leaders of the NSCN, who were irked by the alleged bias of the media reports on the present crisis. They urged the Manipur media to work without any partiality to deliver accurate reports about any incident.

The Imphal Free Press, another daily published from Imphal carried a news report dated May 17 titled "Tangkhuls unhappy with Imphal media". The news report stated that the "Tangkhul organisations in Ukhrul district have been irked by alleged biased reportings by Imphal based newspapers over the present Manipur impasse cropped by the NSCN-IM leader Th Muivah's proposed visit to Manipur. The Tangkhul Action Committee (TAC), a conglomerate of Tangkhul civil society organisations served a 'warning notice' to all the newspapers based in Imphal to give balanced reportings or else the TAC will ban the newspapers." A similar news report was also carried by the Nagaland Post, a daily published from Dimapur, Nagaland and a magazine called The Northeast Today.

Another news report in The Imphal Free Press dated May 9 stated that the Naga Peoples' Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) alleged "over the last few days, private media and even national media such as All India Radio, have been indulging in prejudiced and twisted reporting. For instance, some media reported that Mao residents found their houses ransacked but conveniently failed to mention that it was committed by IRB and Commandos stationed in Mao." The NPMHR also cautioned, "the highest ethical requirement of news persons is objectivity and neutrality, and we remind you to be true to your profession."

Is it really a slur on the Imphal media? Or are the allegations too an outcome of the deep faultlines within the two communities? Ironically, these allegations are being highlighted by the Imphal-based media. Whatever may be the real picture, as of now, the rift seems to be too wide even to be bridged by the media.

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