Editors Guild of India (EGI), the acclaimed national forum of editors in the largest democracy on Earth, is currently in the media headlines for an unusual reason. EGI, which was founded in 1978 with objectives to protect press freedom and raise the standard of editorial leadership for newspapers and periodicals in India, today faces allegations of possessing bias observation on ethnic conflicts in Manipur and even flaring up turmoil with its initiative. Even it had to approach the apex court for instant relief to some of the members.
The debates began as the EGI released a report on 2 September after it’s three-member fact-finding team visited the northeastern State (7 to 10 August) to study media coverages of the Meitei-Kuki violent clashes that snatched away the lives of over 160 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.
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) and Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita, a common resident of Imphal East district. The EGI expressed shock over the police complaints as well as harsh reactions to their report.
But incidentally 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 were 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.
“The report has many contentions and wrong representations which are damaging to the reputation of the media fraternity of Manipur, especially the Imphal-based news outlets. The EGI report claims that its terms of reference was not investigating the genesis of the problem, but they all the same do so in a seemingly motivated manner. The EGI ended up committing many factual errors in the process,” said the joint statement, adding that the EGI’s team with no basic facts claimed that riots were initiated by the Meiteis on 3 May in Churachandpur locality.
In regard to a photograph of a burning building, the EGI captioned it as belonging to a Kuki family, but in reality, the particular building was the office of the State forest department in Churachandpur. The EGI has lately corrected the mistake. The EGI report also claimed that many Kuki-Zo houses along with churches in Meitei dominated areas were destroyed on 3 May itself, but it’s false as the riots spread to the Imphal valley after some days only. It also claimed that most of the valley-based newspapers and news channels took dictations from the CM’s office, which is found highly objectionable by the office bearers of AMWJU and EGM.
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.