New Delhi: A day after an online news portal in Manipur became the first ‘victim’ of the Indian government’s new rules and regulations for digital platforms, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry on Tuesday stepped in to remind the Manipur government that it did not have the power to administer such notices under the new law.
Union I&B Secretary Amit Khare on Tuesday wrote to the Manipur government, saying powers to administer notices have not been delegated to state governments, police commissioners or District Magistrates under the new media laws.
“The rules relating to news publishers and publishers of Online Curated Content (OTT) Platforms, including the Code of Ethics, the 3-Tier Grievances Redressal Mechanism, are to be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. These powers have not been delegated to the state governments or District Magistrate, or Police Commissioner,” read Khare’s letter to the Manipur Chief Secretary.
The letter was sent after the Imphal West district magistrate on Monday served a notice to Manipuri talk show Khanasi Neinasi, a weekly show of The Frontier Manipur (TFM), an online news portal based in Imphal, under the new media laws notified by the Centre on February 25.
The Manipur 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.
The notice, signed by Imphal West district magistrate Naorem Praveen Singh, stated that since TFM provides 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.
The notice also said, “failing which, steps as deemed fit would be initiated without further notice.”
“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 told EastMojo.
Wangkhemcha has been targeted by the Manipur government and slapped with several cases in the past over his posts on social media. Since 2018, Wangkhemcha has been 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 been ill-advised by some lame advisors…those advisors who have not read the new rules,” claimed Wangkhemcha.
This is also not the first time that 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 journalists’ were accused of supporting a terrorist organisation under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. However, all the charges were dropped later.
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.