Twelve years ago, a young journalist named Konsam Rishikanta Singh of the Imphal Free Press was found shot dead on a lonely road within the Greater Imphal area. The local press fraternity suspecting the hand of state forces had then made a demand for a high-level inquiry. Newspapers went off the stands for 13 days till the government came to senses by deciding to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The mystery of Rishikanta’s murder still remains unsolved till today. That 13-day news blackout was the longest period of protest by Manipur journalists.
Soon after, a hand grenade was lobbed at the offices of Poknapham daily and its sister publication Peoples’ Chronicle at Keishampat and Imphal based newspapers went off the stands for six days.
The investigation of state police into the incident went nowhere. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by the Imphal West SP was even formed, but there are still no leads as to who or which group are involved in the Poknapham incident.
Again, Poknapham was threatened to stop publication for six months by a group.
A joint meeting of the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union and Editors’ Guild Manipur decided on a 48-hour cease work strike of journalists. That was the environment, in which journalists in Manipur worked years ago. But now, a semblance of sanity had dawned upon actors some time ago though there are still existing threats of factions claiming to be sole representatives of groups and banning press releases from the other side. But this is the reality that we are facing.
It surfaced again the other day, when the Editor of Sangai Express Manipur who is also the president of Editors Guild was threatened by a group. In such a situation, the journalist fraternity had no other alternative but to boycott the press release of such groups.
Time and again, the journalist community and the media has been the target of threats from both state and non-state actors since the conflict began.
The pressure from non-state comes mostly from small factions in their bid to gain legitimacy through the media. These groups look upon the media as a notice board for posting their threats and summons to their victims, and mud-slinging between these factions.
The threats were sometimes directed not only on the editors and journalists but indirectly on newspaper distributors so as to bring editors into submission.
But being a journalist in a conflict zone is always a risk and over the years. the Manipur journalists have learned to take it in their stride, of course, in the hard way.
There are several instances of journalists being killed, assaulted or intimidated in one way or the other.
In the past, the state actors, security forces and state police were crude while intimidating the press. But it has diminished in the last decade or so and they seem to be using subtler methods of persuasion.
About two decades ago, the journalist fraternity was fragmented with several organisations springing up and both state and non-state actors were playing them against each other to serve their vested interests.
In realisation, the journalists’ organisations merge into a single group under the banner of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) to fight the threats united. But still, desparate elements continue to create mischief and bring disunity among the rank and file.
Also, some pretenders are trying to take advantage of the explosion of social media and gain legitimacy in the realm of mainstream media. Perhaps, the time has come for members of the mainstream media to put their heads together to team up to this clear and present danger inimical to its existence.
Read More: IFP EDITORIAL