Manipur sends notice to journalist citing digital media rules, withdraws it after Centre steps in
The notice under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified on February 25, was issued on March 1 and served on Tuesday morning to the publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi, which means Let’s Talk in Manipuri.
A talk show from Manipur on current affairs and news hosted on a social media platform became the first to be served a notice under the new rules for digital media framed by the Centre last week, but the notice issued by a district magistrate (DM) was withdrawn on Tuesday after the information and broadcasting ministry said that states did not have the power to take such steps.
The notice under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 notified on February 25, was issued on March 1 and served on Tuesday morning to the publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi, which means Let’s Talk in Manipuri. This was probably the first such action against digital news anywhere in the country -- four days after a gazette notification on the new digital media rules were published.
However, on Tuesday, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar told HT: “The rules are very clear that a DM does not have the power to issue such a notice. The mechanism is mostly self-regulatory and only in very serious cases can they complain to the ministry.”
A letter written by I&B ministry secretary Amit Khare to Manipur chief secretary Rajesh Kumar said that the powers under the new rules “have not been delegated to the state governments/district magistrate/police commissioner”. It said the rules are to be administered by the ministry of information and broadcasting.
The show is hosted on Facebook page of Kishorechandra Wangkhem, an Imphal-based journalist against whom the present Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the state has slapped several cases since 2018 and who has been jailed three times.
The notice issued by Naorem Praveen Singh, district magistrate of Imphal West district, said: “It has come to the notice of the undersigned that you are providing online services on news and current affairs on the social media platform.”
The publisher/intermediary were directed to “furnish all relevant documents that you ensure compliance of the provisions” of the new rules “failing which steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”.
On Tuesday evening, a letter addressed to the publisher/intermediary of Khanasi Neinasi was issued by the same DM, mentioning that the notice issued earlier “stands withdrawn with immediate effect”.
The programme Khanasi Neinasi is around two months old and besides being broadcast, it was also telecast on the YouTube channel of Frontier Manipur, an Imphal-based digital news platform.
“We have hosted just four to five shows. The last show aired on February 28 (a day before the notice was issued) was titled ‘Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking a Tightrope’” Kishorechandra, who’s also an associate editor of Frontier Manipur, said over the phone from Imphal.
“It is not the responsibility of the district magistrate or the state government to issue such notifications. It seems they realised their mistake and decided to withdraw the earlier notice,” Kishorechandra added.
Frontier Manipur has a collaboration with another news portal call Seven Salai and uses the latter’s infrastructure. Paojel Chaoba is the publisher as well as executive editor of Frontier Manipur.
Kishorechandra was first arrested in November 2018 for uploading a video on social media which was critical of the government of Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh.
Several charges under IPC that included sedition and National Security Act were slapped against him. He was released in April 2019 after the Manipur high court revoked his detention.
He was again arrested in September 2020 on charges of sedition and promoting enmity between different groups on social media. Kishorechandra was released in December 2020 following which he joined Frontier Manipur and started hosting the talk show.
In January this year, Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam, editor-in-chief of Frontier Manipur, were detained for over 24 hours based on an FIR filed by a police officer for publishing an opinion piece titled ‘Revolutionary Journey in a Mess’.