Amid widespread outrage over the notice sent to journalist Paojel Chaoba’s news outlet, The Frontier Manipur, the Centre has intervened asking the state government authority to withdraw it with immediate effect. The retraction was issued by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry clarifying that it had not delegated any powers to state governments with regard to the compliance of the new digital media regulations reports, MANYA SAINI.
THE Manipur Police has decided to withdraw its legal notice against the news organisation, The Frontier Manipur (TFM), and its executive director, Paojel Chaoba hours after issuing it under the new digital media guidelines. The retraction notice reads, “It is to inform you that this office notice of even number dated 1st March 2021 served to you stands withdrawn with immediate effect.”
Commenting on the withdrawal Chaoba told The Wire, that he found the notice attached to his office gate at 6 in the evening. “It was signed by the same district magistrate of Imphal West, Naorem Praveen Singh,” he said.
The move comes amid nationwide outrage over the notice asking the news outlet to furnish documents proving compliance with the new rules defined under Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Significant concerns had been raised by the media and civil society organisations such as the Internet Freedom Foundation on the freedom of speech and press after the action against The Frontier Manipur.
Amit Khare, Secretary, Information and Broadcasting Ministry wrote to the Manipur government clarifying that only the ministry has the power to seek documentation, disclosure of information, compliance with the Code of Ethics and addressing the grievances in the 3-tier mechanism. It further added that no authority has “been delegated to the State Governments, District Magistrate, or Police Commissioner. The letter was addressed to the Manipur Chief Secretary Rajesh Kumar, dated March 2, and referred to the notice issued to the publisher of Khanasi Neinasi signed by the district magistrate.
UPDATE: this letter might clarify why the notice was retracted. Secy @GoI_MeitY wrote to DM-Imphal saying: 1. Central govt has powers under new IT rules 2. Rules are for media platforms Can we conclude, not for arbitrarily targeting social media discussions? pic.twitter.com/tjgsyDoSbJ
The initial notice took objection to the online discussion hosted by TFM on its official Facebook page titled, “Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking a Tight Rope.” The panelists included local independent journalists and employees of TFM, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, Grace Jajo, Ninglun Hanghal alongside Chaoba.
The weekend show regularly takes up issues related to the crackdown on freedom of expression, speech and the media. Incidentally, the talk show episode to which the Manipur Government had objected had been on the new digital media regulation rules announced by the Centre last week and the implications of their implementation on news outlets. The notice was sent a day after the show was published on Facebook stating that TFM was required to comply with the new regulatory guidelines as it was providing news and current affairs on the social media platform.
Chaoba, talking to The News Minute, had questioned the authority of the appellate officer asking the information to be furnished. He has also called the notice a “systematic attack on media and digital media,” and condemned the involvement of police officials in seeking the documentation.
According to Chaoba, six to seven police officers had entered his office on March 2 with the notice. Further, he has said that TFM has did not break any laws and therefore the action of the government “shows we are being oppressed by the regime, we are being slapped with such notices. It is intimidation, systematic harassment and repression.”
(Manya Saini is a student of journalism at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune, and an intern with The Leaflet.)