Imphal: Days after the Indian government came up with new rules and regulations for digital platforms, an online news portal in Manipur became its first ‘victim’. However, the notice has since been withdrawn.
On Monday, the Manipur government issued a legal notice to Khanasi Neinasi, a weekly show of The Frontier Manipur (TFM), an online news portal based in Imphal. The government directed the media outlet to furnish all relevant documents to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules, 2021.
Hosted by Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha, an associate editor of TFM, the online show ‘Khanasi Neinasi’ (Let’s discuss and analyse) produced four episodes. In the first episode, a panel discussion on the theme ‘Frontier and The Freedom of Expression’. It was uploaded on the site’s Facebook page on January 31.
Ironically, the last episode of the show uploaded on the Facebook page of TFM on February 28 under the topic “Media under siege: Are journalists walking a tightrope” discussed new digital ethics.
The panelists were Paojel Chaoba, the executive editor of TFM, Grace Jajo, an independent journalist, and Ninglun Hanghal, a columnist and freelance journalist.
During the discussion, Grace Jajo shared her ordeal during the recently-concluded budget session. Jajo was denied entry on the last day of the 12th session of the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly.
Speaking to EastMojo, Paojel Chaoba said that around six to seven police personnel came to the office on Tuesday morning and handed over the notice.
“This is a direct attack on freedom of expression and the law…the power has been misused by the district magistrate,” said Chaoba.
How can they notify me and then retract it as per their whim? he asked.
“This is a selective target, nothing else, especially when they mentioned Khanasi Neinasi…I am not happy with the last sentence where it says ‘failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice’. This is intimidation, a threat, and we are going to take legal action against the DC,” said Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha, the host of the show.
Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha had been slapped with several cases against him for his posts on social media. Since 2018, Wangkhemcha was sent to jail thrice for criticising the government. He was released from jail in April 2019 after the Manipur High Court quashed the charges against him.
“In my case, there is no doubt that the DC is acting directly on the chief minister’s orders. And the CM must have ill-advised by some lame advisors…those advisors who have not read the new rules,” claimed Wangkhemcha.
The notice signed by Imphal West district magistrate Naorem Praveen Singh stated that since TFM provide news and current affairs through their Facebook page, they must observe due diligence, code of ethics and procedure, safeguards about digital media, self-regulating mechanism and furnishing of information.
On February 25, the ministry of electronics and information technology, the Government of India, issued the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, as part of Section 79 of the Information Technology Act.
This is not the first time TFM has come under the state government’s scanner. In January, the website’s two senior journalists, executive editor Paojel Chaoba and editor-in-chief Sadokpam Dhiren, were booked for sedition and criminal conspiracy over an article authored by M Luwang titled ‘Revolutionary Journey in a mess’ published on their portal. The police alleged that the article was a critical indictment of many armed groups in the state. The police also filed an FIR filed against the author, claiming that the article openly endorsed revolutionary ideologies and activities.
The journalists’ were accused of supporting a terrorist organisation under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. However, all the charges were dropped later.