A very frequently debated question in Manipur is what constitutes freedom of the press. The classical definition of this freedom is that while news is sacred, opinions are free. That is to say, freedom of the press does not give the liberty for media organizations to tamper with news, but it gives these organizations every right for its editors and leader writers to interpret news events the way it pleases them, just as it is in everybody’s right to agree or not agree with these opinions. In fact the very idea of a meaningful problem solving discourse presumes everybody has the freedom to keep and express opinions without fear or apprehension. The object of a serious discourse hence is to discover a “site” where ideas can interact, interchange, replicate and expand themselves, to borrow a very intellectual understanding of the proposition from the French Philosopher, Michel Foucault, as elucidated in an essay “What is an author?” Against this backdrop, we are of the opinion that even the phrase “freedom of press”, is limited in its scope for the right to keep and express opinions cannot be exclusive to the press alone, but anybody who believes and values a discourse. This dictum that facts are sacred but opinions free must apply to everybody. Any objection to this betrays a fascistic mindset which informs itself that nothing else is worthwhile except its own opinion. This is the surest obituary for the civilized problem solving mechanism (in our case conflict resolving mechanism) known as “discourse”.
We are at a loss to remember how many times this obituary has been written in our society in the past. The bans, the boycotts, and worse still, threats to life and limbs to those who raise dissenting voice have obliterated all scopes for any healthy discourse. Our society has become so rectilinear in its approach and vision of its past, present and future, so very contrary to life’s multifarious nature. It is not just the press alone but practically everybody is expected to fall into line with these approaches and visions. But it is not too late yet. We can still allow the age old wisdom of the free media – that “news is sacred and opinions free” – grow and flower again in our society. Only when this happens, our ideas and visions can have the chance to rejuvenate. As of now, let us be honest, they are aging. We continue to live our lives on yesterday’s slogans, extracted from dog-eared manifestos of a bygone era. Only freethinking debates and discourses can tune our society out of our anachronistic present.
How free is the Manipur press then? We suppose we can only justifiably answer for ourselves. How free has the IFP been in discharging its important duty of providing informed views on events that happen in the state? Our honest answer is, while we have tried our best to work as per the dictum that news is sacred and opinions free, which we whole heartedly believe in, we must have to confess that we too have been guilty often of shooting the piano player after ignoring the bandmaster and the composer. We too cannot wash our hands of the guilt of blasting the government only, for the carnages committed by other agencies. In the cases of some of the most atrocious public crimes in the present times, such as that of the library arson in the wake of the Mayek agitation or the ban on Little Flower School by a students’ organization at about the same time for the school refusing to allow its students to enlist in students to public “students’ unions” (which are actually political proxies of various radical organisations) or other such coercive campaigns some of which ironically direct attacked media freedom, and over which the entire state media even have had to stop publication for days together, it is surprising the only agency the media was ready to blame was the government. The government perhaps deserves all the choice sound bites, but when the criticisms are silent on other agencies responsible for these affronts, something terribly rings hollow. As for instance, the government failed to anticipate the library arson but it did not burn the building. The government failed to prevent the routine bomb blasts in the state but it did not throw the bombs. We fear that this hollowness, if allowed to linger on, will be the demon that destroys the credibility of the media in the state before the eyes of the world. Such an outcome would be such a great loss for everybody. The media’s biased discretions in these matters of course speak of the liberal nature of our so called democratic polity. Our plea then is also for this liberal spirit of democracy to be imbibed by all so that true and honest discourses can begin happening again in our society.