Opinion: When truth is the casualty
Displaced people from Manipur

The din, nay, the disenchantment, particularly among Meitei groups, surrounding the fact-finding report of the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) on the Manipur violence, continues to simmer. In its report, the EGI exposed the partisan role of the state government and local media in the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur.

An FIR was lodged against the fact-finding team members by the Manipur government. Journalists’ fraternities in Manipur, such as the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) and the Editors’ Guild of Manipur (EGM), a replication of EGI at the state level, have strongly contested the report and demanded its nullification.

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A PIL was filed against the EGI members by the International Meetei Forum (IMF) at the Manipur High Court, seeking to ‘quash’ the fact-finding report.

The EGI report has irked the Meiteis (including the Manipur Government, ‘Meitei Media,’ Meitei CSOs, and intellectuals) to the hilt. In fact, the report is entirely contrary to what the Meiteis want people to believe and, importantly, offers diametrically opposed views regarding the present ethnic violence.

The report has debunked the Meitei media’s constant efforts to bolster arguments and narratives promoted by Meitei CSO leaders, the N Biren regime, and its agents. Truth is hard to swallow, and it becomes even harder to acquire and maintain objectivity, particularly during times of conflict with another community.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time valley-based media has been criticised for biased reporting. Several Meitei newspapers have faced reprimands, censorship, and even bans, particularly in the hill districts, for their one-sided reporting. The guiding principles of newspapers and news outlets in Imphal were visibly flawed on many issues.

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The saying that ‘TRUTH is the first casualty in war’ couldn’t be truer than in Manipur at this time. The context and the reason why the Army authorities invited EGI to scrutinise the partiality in reporting by ‘local’ media should be understood from the right perspective.

Instead of urging the chief minister to file an FIR and encouraging CSOs to file PILs against the EGI team, the journalists’ fraternity in Manipur and Meitei intelligentsia should have engaged in some introspection regarding their news reporting processes. The ‘local media’ faced serious allegations of indulging in outright misrepresentation of facts, violating journalistic ethics and norms, and, in the process, fueling the violence.

Instead of allowing room for self-reflection, they reacted belligerently, which is unbecoming of a body that primarily consists of educated elites. The letter written to the EGI by 3 Corps Headquarters, with a few instances cited, was self-explanatory in exposing the modus operandi applied by the Meitei media.

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After all, who accused the Meitei media of impartiality? Only they themselves. This will have serious ramifications for the restoration of normalcy in the State. It is unlikely that any community other than theirs would trust them when they try to promote peace. Given their current stance, these media are unlikely to spare any efforts to restore normalcy, if not trust. Distrust is certain to lead to disillusionment, cynicism, and disengagement.

The aggressive reactions to the EGI report suggest several things. The pro-Meitei tendency adopted by Imphal-based media (Meitei media) is undeniable. The Meitei media could not restrain their emotions and openly displayed partiality.

Although there is a saying, ‘blood is thicker than water,’ accommodating the viewpoints and perspectives of the other party would have affirmed their credibility. Their refusal to accommodate facts and views from the other side has contributed to a lack of trust. Furthermore, the Meitei media has lost all credibility and demonstrated to the world that they are incapable of being facilitators of much-needed peace and normalcy.

The unkind role of the Meitei media in exacerbating antagonism between the Kukis and Meiteis, leading to the present carnage, cannot be overlooked. Instead of questioning, they harangue and echo the voice and agenda of the chief minister, his henchmen, and bootlickers who are driven by extreme hatred for the Kukis.

Over the past few years, regardless of the consequences, the Meitei media has refrained from challenging ‘official’ narratives, particularly concerning the Kukis. They contribute to fueling antagonism and demonising the Kuki community. They promote N Biren Singh and other radical groups/individuals who openly perpetuate the false narrative that Kukis are illegal immigrants, drug dealers, and terrorists, among other accusations.

They reinforce the views of these radical and divisive elements and indoctrinate the gullible public. Their overindulgence in misrepresentation, stereotyping, and often fabrication demands serious self-examination.

For example, when Meitei CSOs, N Biren Singh, or any radical individuals use loose terms such as ‘illegal immigrants,’ ‘narco-terrorists,’ ‘poppy planters/drug dealers,’ and the like to refer to the Kukis, the Meitei press liberally, arbitrarily, and conveniently uses these terms in their headlines. However, statements from the other party are strictly censored in the gatekeeping process.

It’s undoubtedly one-sided. During the course of the violence, these media create excitement with outrageous lies only to reinforce existing prejudices.

The reaction of Meitei scribes, intellectuals, the Manipur government, and radical CSOs to the EGI fact-finding report suggests their complicity in the ongoing ethnic conflict, aimed at further subjugating, if not annihilating, the Kukis.

The Imphal-based media should realise that their ‘journalism’ lacks conviction, setting a very unhealthy precedent. To regain lost credibility, they must reflect on their way of functioning and engage in introspection to ensure that truth is not the first casualty of politics and journalism.

The FIR against EGI was based on allegations that the report submitted by the team was ‘false, fabricated, and sponsored,’ which ‘aggravated the problem.’ It is up to readers and observers to judge whether EGI or the local media fits these allegations. Besides the EGI report, the circumstances that led the EGI team to examine the unconventional reporting by local media deserve serious attention. It would not be an overstatement to say that it represents an ethical crisis.

In the post-truth age, the media, particularly Imphal-based ones, have a larger role to play as ‘true mediators,’ architects, and facilitators of peace, rather than serving as channels for reinforcing prejudices and fueling violence.

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect EastMojo’s stance on the issue.

Also Read Manipur govt sets up one-man panel to probe soldier’s murder

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