IMPHAL, September 4: Following threats and intimidation over the phone to media practitioners and newspaper hawkers and distributors over the non publication of a press release from a certain group that media houses held suspect, the journalist fraternity in the state have been operating in uncertain conditions for days now.
The threat comes in retaliation of the refusal of media houses to publish/air a news item of a dubious ‘ militant group’ who passed the diktat on the former thereby infringe on the freedom of the media.
The group threatened to inflict bodily harm to members of the media fraternity including hawkers.
When media went about its work, the said group threatened members of the All Manipur Newspapers Sales and Distributors Association (AMNSDA) saying that newspaper hawkers and distributors would be targeted if the said press release was not published within August 30.
With media houses remaining adamant on not publishing the said ‘press release’, the tone of repeated threats to AMNSDA led the association to stop carrying or distributing newspapers, thereby curtailing the access of the public to news for three days.
On September 2, members of the All Manipur Working Journalist Union and All Manipur Newspapers Sales and Distributors Association (AMNSDA), organised a mass silent rally.
The rally started from Manipur press club and marched towards the Chief Minister bungalow.
Later, the AMWJU’s executive led by its president W Shyamjai and president of the AMNSDA, met the Chief Minister and apprised him of the prevailing situation.
The Chief Minister reportedly assured to extend any possible help from the Government’s side.
A day earlier, a group of editors met with the Chief Minister who assured that the police would not only provide protection to media houses but technical surveillance used to track down those responsible for the mobile threats.
A general body meeting of the AMWJU, editors and AMNSDA was convened on the same day following which, a decision was taken to abstain from duty and cease publication for two days as a mark of protest over the threats.
The next day ,a sit in protest was also staged at Keishampat junction. Showing their solidarity to AMWJU, the Manipur Hill Journalist Union inclusive of the media fraternity here also took part in the sit in protest. It was resolved that the media houses will begin work from September 4 and publications will be available from the next day onwards.
Meanwhile, the Indian Journalists’ Union has expressed concern over the threat and has appealed to the group to withdraw it.
In the meantime, a formal report has been filed at the Imphal West and East police stations about the particular threat as it still persists.
However, mobile communication from the said organization still continued to pour in to editors and AMWJU executives. Despite assurances being given for police patrolling to be stepped up near media houses; the focus remains on Imphal West where a majority of media houses are located.
Interestingly, police commandos of Imphal West helpfully gave mobile numbers to the office staff of Imphal Free Press in case ‘bombs were left around’.