In a statement on the eve of the National Press Day, editors of major newspapers in Nagaland have reacted sharply to the a notification issued by a Colonel of the General Staff for Assam Rifles on October 25 last. The notification insinuated that the editors have violated the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 by publishing statements by proscribed organisations and that the editors were complicit in illegal activities.
However, the editor took the opportunity to reflect and assert their role to reinforce the idea of an independent and responsible free press and affirmed their commitment as the fourth pillar of democracy. They stated that the newspapers in Nagaland remain open to critical feedback and believed that “free flow of information and ideas is essential for contributing to mutual understanding and peace” in the State.
In the statement, the editors affirmed that they would continue to create and provide “responsible and healthy spaces and opportunities” that are open to diverse viewpoints in a sincere and sensitive manner without infringing on the news quality or the potential for constructive engagement.
In asserting that the editors would still continue reporting events “ethically with transparency, accountability and objectivity by verifying and authenticating our sources of information while respecting the principle of confidentiality”, they have also explicitly argued that notification issued by the Colonel needs to be viewed within the context of the long standing “Indo-Naga issue”.
The editors had also enlightened the Colonel that historians and scholars have noted the Naga issue as one of the oldest political conflicts in the world. They stated that the newspapers in Nagaland fully appreciated the historical reality within which they live and work.
The statement issued by the editors is an ideal way forward to resist the shrinking space of the media in the Northeast in a well coordinated alliance between civil society groups and policy makers.
Journalists and media persons in the region should also collectively engage with issues confronted by the States and work with other independent “non-partisan” media monitoring and analysis groups that can offer a treasure trove of information. Such interactions and engagements will make the policy makers go beyond the state/security/military apparatus formula. While sharing free and unbiased flow of information and news, one should not forget that the news media is an essential component of a democratic state.