Imphal (Manipur ), March 3 : An intimidating notice was issued directing publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi (The Frontier Manipur’s talk show) to furnish all the relevant documents, “failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”. It was withdrawn within hours of its issuance following the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s letter that said powers have not been delegated to the State Governments/District Magistrate/Police Commissioner.
In a move that could be treated as a slap in the face of the chief minister N Biren Singh-led Manipur government, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Tuesday shot off a letter to the state for crossing Lakshman Rekha in its attempt to arm-twist the media in general and The Frontier Manipur (TFM) in particular.
Following the letter, the Manipur Government ate a humble pie by withdrawing an intimidating notice to TFM, a news portal, within hours of its issuance. The notice was issued by Imphal West district magistrate Naorem Praveen Singh under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified on February 25, 2021.
Copies of the notice were delivered to TFM executive editor Paojel Chaoba and associate editor Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha at their residences by armed policemen around 9 am and 7.30 am respectively.
The notice, addressed to the publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi, a weekend talk-show of TFM, 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.”
When such a notice just four days after a gazette notification on the new digital media rules were published raised eyebrows, a one-line notice which reads “It is to inform you that this office notice of even number dated 1st March 2020 served to you stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” found put up on Paojel Chaoba’s gate in the evening.
The withdrawal notice followed the letter from Amit Khare secretary, Information and broadcasting to the Manipur chief secretary Rajesh Kumar.
I&B’s letter said “…Part Ill of these rules relating to news publishers and publishers of Online Curated Content (OTT) Platforms, including the Code of Ethics, the 3-Tier Grievance Redressal Mechanism and the requirement of furnishing of information and disclosure of information, are to be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. These powers have not been delegated to the State Governments/District Magistrate/Police Commissioner.”
This is not the first time the Manipur government made a complete U-turn after harassing and intimidating the TFM editors. In January also, Paojel Chaoba, along with TFM editor in chief Dhiren A. Sadokpam, was detained under stringent provisions including UAP Act for an article published on its news portal. They were released the next day without producing before the court.
According to Paojel Chaoba, the episode was a “complete misuse” of power by the Imphal West DC Naorem Praveen Singh. Maintaining that the notice was withdrawn amidst the protest by media outlets all over the country, he asserted that it was aimed at repressing the media.
“They are trying to arm-twist our arms through whatever means necessary. And they are failing big-time,” he added.
Kishorechandra Wangkhem said that the episode was shocking and funny at the same time. The last part of the notice — “failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”, was a direct assault, threat and intimidation to the freedom of the press, he said
“Ironically, the discussions so far on the talk-show have been about attacks on media, for the welfare of journalists, problems and threats from both state and non-state actors,” he said, adding, “I see no reason why such notice would be served for discussing such an important issue.”
Reporting on the incident, The News Minute said, “Digital media outlets had earlier voiced concerns about how the new IT rules will affect the freedom of the press in India. As per the new rules, a multi-ministry government body can ultimately decide what content can and cannot be published by these organisations and the media organisations have no choice but to comply. They have said that digital publishers are already subject to restrictions, face countless defamation and criminal cases for their reportage, and existing laws are already being used in order to regulate digital media.”
Meanwhile ,Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has today written a letter to Chief Secretaries of all States and Administrators of all Union Territories (UTs) clarifying that the powers under Part III of the rules are administered by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The letter has also underlined that these powers have not been delegated to the State Governments or District Magistrates or Police Commissioners.
It has also been requested that this information be brought to the notice of all concerned persons in States and UTs.
The letter has again clarified the provisions of the rules under Part III which relate to publishers of digital news and current affairs and publishers of online curated content (OTT platforms).
The rules, the letter states, provide for a Code of Ethics to be followed by digital news publishers and publishers of OTT content, which includes five age based classification.
Further, the rules require a three-level Grievance Redressal Mechanism consisting of the publisher (Level-1), self-regulating body constituted by the publishers (Level-II) and an Oversight Mechanism of the Government (Level III), with time bound grievance disposal mechanism. Finally the rules require furnishing of information by the publishers to the Government and periodical disclosure of information regarding grievance redressal in public domain.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 under Information Technology Act, 2000 were notified on 25th February, 2021.
By special arrangement with The Frointier Manipur