Manipur slaps journalist with notice under new IT rules, only to withdraw it

The online discussion over which the notice was sent was on the new IT rules, and titled, ‘Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking A Tightrope?’

Khogendro Khomdram (second from left), the president of Editors' Guild of Manipur and Bijoy Kakchingtabam (second right), president of All Manipur Working Journalists' Union, with Manipur chief minister Nongthongbam Biren Singh (left) securing the release of the two arrested journalists after negotiations and handing over the letter of undertaking signed by Aribam Dhananjoy, who is better known as Paojel Chaoba.

The Manipur government on Monday issued a notice to a journalist under the Centre’s new Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, over an online discussion that was conducted and uploaded on the Facebook page of his organisation, The Frontier Manipur (TFM), only to withdraw it the next day.

This was perhaps the first notice to be sent to a media outlet in the country under the new rules. TFM is a digital media outlet started in August 2020. The journalist, Aribam Dhananjoy, who is known as ‘Paojel Chaoba’, and TFM were asked to furnish documents to show that they were complying with the new rules, “failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”, according to The News Minute website, which first reported the story.

The News Minute later posted an update saying: “On Tuesday evening, a notice was pasted at the journalist’s door to inform him that the notice against him ‘stands withdrawn with immediate effect’.”

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Incidentally, the online discussion, called Kanasi Neinasi, was on the new IT rules themselves and titled ‘Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking A Tightrope?’ Paojel Chaoba, executive editor of TFM, Grace Jajo, an independent journalist, and Ninglun Hanghal, a columnist and freelance journalist, took part in it. The event was hosted by Kishorchandra Wangkhemcha, associate editor, TFM. It was uploaded on the TFM’s Facebook page on February 28.

The next day, according to TNM, Paojel received a notice from Naorem Praveen Singh, district magistrate, Imphal West District. The notice, addressed to ‘Publisher/Intermediary, Khanasi Neinasi’, said: “… You are hereby directed to furnish all the relevant documents showing that you ensure compliance of the provisions of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021: failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice.”

The notice seems to have been sent under Chapter V of the new rules, which states: “A publisher of news and current affairs content and a publisher of online curated content operating in the territory of India, should inform the Ministry about the details of its entity by furnishing information along with such documents as may be specified, for the purpose of enabling communication and coordination.”

Addressed to ‘Publisher/Intermediary, Khanasi Neinasi,’ it seems to have been sent under Chapter V of the new rules, as per TNM.

This is not the first time that the state authorities have targeted TFM journalists.

Also read: 2 Manipur editors held under UAPA for article, freed after giving undertaking

The police had arrested Chaoba and his editor-in-chief on January 17 on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy for carrying an article critiquing the armed revolutionary groups and civil societies in the state. The article incidentally had been published earlier by two other news publications.

Chaoba has been an outspoken critic of the BJP-led government in the state.

According to family members, a team from the Singjamei police station in Imphal West district arrived at around 7 am to pick him up from his residence. However, he chose to go to the police station on his own and was put under detention shortly after his arrival at the station.

Within a few hours of Chaoba’s arrest, Dhiren Sadokpam, the editor-in-chief of TFM, was summoned to the police station for interrogation and was also placed under detention.

The two were released on January 18 unconditionally by removing all the charges after Chaoba submitted a letter of undertaking to Imphal West SP K Meghachandra saying the article was an “oversight”. In a letter addressed to the SP of the Imphal West police station, he said the article’s “source was unverified” and uploading the article on the website was an “oversight”.

“There will be no such mistake which will not pass our scrutiny in future,” the undertaking said.

Representatives of the Editors Guild of Manipur and All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union also held talks with Chief Minister Nongthongbam Biren, a former journalist who also happens to be the state’s home minister, to secure the release of the two.

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