There was no news from Manipur as newspaper publications had shut down. Even web based communications were not updated. This happens in this troubled north eastern state of India every alternate week.
When student leaders from Nagaland announced at a press meet in Delhi on June 14 that they were suspending their 60-days-long economic blockade of National Highways 39 and 53 following their 'positive' meeting with the Prime Minister, I eagerly gave this news to the Editor of The Sangai Express, an Imphal daily.
While listening to the news that would bring relief to the beleaguered people of Manipur with excitement that matched mine, the editor also spoke of the media's on-going 'confrontation' with an insurgent outfit that had even forced him to remove the press tag from his car.
In this strife-torn state the woes of the media seem to see no end. After the blockade they were accused of bias in reporting the Naga leaders' home visit. Newspapers have been forced to cut down on pages due to shortage of newsprint and most publications in the capital city of Imphal are being targeted by militant outfits once again.
On June 26th and 27th newspapers did not hit the stands again as journalists from print and electronic media held a sit-in demonstration to protest against the death threats issued to the Manipur Working Journalists Union spokesperson by a proscribed outfit. This threat was issued despite the dialogue initiated by the media with members of the outfit. ANI, a news agency, quoted an Imphal-based journalist who said that the threat had been issued after an initial apology by the militant faction. He said the sit-in protest was against the severity of the threat. The militants had warned of fatal consequences.
Barring editors and office bearers of the journalists' union, not a single reporter has been spared the threat calls by unidentified persons in Manipur. In November 2008 all publications had shut down for 10 days after a reporter with the Imphal Free Press was killed under suspicious circumstances. In 2004, ISTV - a local channel - was not allowed to telecast its programmes by the state government during the height of the protests against AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in the aftermath of an alleged rape and murder of a woman by personnel of Assam Rifles.
As if the flack that the media was facing from militant threats was not enough, news came via the Hindu of June 27 that the Defence Ministry had taken a serious view of what it perceived as the partisan publicity being given to militant handouts by the press in Manipur. The report said that the complaint had been forwarded to the Home Ministry alleging that the media was being used as a mouth piece by banned organisations.
What is surprising in this situation is that the civilian population at large seems to be quite blase about the whole issue. Yet the media in Manipur is relentless in its endeavour to provide information and it will always bounce back with new vigour after every " Litmus test " as the editorial in The Sangai Express of June 27 says. In an embattled state like Manipur the media, seen as a soft target, has always been and will continue to be pressurized by the state and the militant organisations. The editorial adds that this was bound to be part and parcel of the profession further stating "...and for a media to be taken seriously and treated with the respect it demands, we need to take a stand and not bow down to the diktats of each and every single pressure group.'
As news writers stop writing and publishers shut down their publications, the general public is deprived of information. The irony is that there is no one to tell the story of the story teller and the media don't tell their own story either.
Ninglun Hanghal reports for the Imphal daily The Sangai Express, from Delhi.