The standoff between the media and the government yet again on the arrest of the editor of Sanaleibak on charges of the latter being a conduit of a faction of the underground KCP which is currently poised to hold talks with the Central and state governments is unfortunate. The facts of the matter is, the editor, who is the spokesperson of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, AMWJU, was contacted by a leader of this particular underground faction and asked him to fly in a delegate of the AMWJU to New Delhi, where they would have a consultative meeting before a crucial meeting the underground group was to have with the government to finalise the peace negotiation framework. The AMWJU spokesperson quite obviously told the caller that the journalist organisation would not have the money to spare for such a trip, whereby the faction leader volunteered to provide the money for the tickets. The money was sent to the editor, but when the delivery was done, it was by police commandos in civvies. The policemen promptly arrested the editor charging he was collecting money on behalf of the particular underground organisation. According to the police, the money, Rs. 50,000 in all, was an extorted amount from a gas agency nearby.
One telephone call, or perhaps two, should have solved the problem with further fuss. The first can be to the leader of the underground organisation, who is now with the government, as to whether his organisation sent the money to the editor for the purchase of three tickets and other incidental travel costs to New Delhi. If he says yes, half the problem would have been solved, at least as far as the charge of complicity of the editor is concerned in the reported extortion. The second call can be to the proprietor of the gas agency from whom the money is said to have been extorted. The story goes that the extortion demand was for Rs. 5 lakhs, but had been negotiated down to Rs. 50,000. The further police charges that the editor was also part of the negotiation to bring down this extortion amount, which of course the editor denies. If the editor was indeed negotiating for the lowering of the extortion amount, he would have been on the gas agent’s side and the latter should be able to confirm the veracity of the charge. If the case was pursued with honesty of purpose, there would have been absolutely no need to humiliate the editor, whose reputation and integrity anybody in the journalistic fraternity would vouch without hesitation. Being an important office bearer of the apex body of journalists in a conflict ridden state, he and others in similar offices have had to be in the unenviable position of being the shock absorbers whenever the journalist community faced trouble with various underground factions, as well as with the government. Indeed such matters have become so routine that they have come to be handled with a degree of casualness, as indeed the editor in question seems to be somewhat guilty of.
What is surprising is, the underground group concerned in this case is one among those on truce with the government. Not only would it be simple for the government to find out the truth behind the case, but even if there indeed was an extortion crime involved, it is the government which must be answerable, for the group is among those under its wings at the moment. So the police charge of extortion would actually amount to the government spitting at the sky, knowing full well gravity would ensure the spittle ultimately returns to land on its own face. Before the faceoff hardens too much, let the matter be resolved amicably and justly. The journalists are not saying the community should be given impunity from the normal process of law, but that the present case is too flimsy and appears to be a deliberate and vindictive attack on the profession to browbeat it and its practitioners. All it would take for this resolution to be arrived at is a little transparency. Let the government come clear on what the underground faction in question has to say on the matter. If the money involved was looted from a gas agency, and that as alleged the arrested editor had something to do with it, let the owner of the agency testify. Short of such a measure, the protest by the journalists is perfectly legitimate.