Notice to Manipuri talk show under new digital media laws revoked
The Manipur government on Tuesday evening cancelled the notice issued to a talk show on current affairs under the new digital media rules after the Centre appeared to reprimand the state government for exercising powers that it had not been given, people aware of the developments said.
Imphal West district magistrate had issued the notice under a new set of rules notified by the Centre on 25 February, triggering concerns that local officials could use the new provisions against its critics.
Union information and technology minister Prakash Javadekar responded to this concern. “The mechanism is mostly self-regulatory and only in very serious cases can they complain to the ministry,” he told Hindustan Times.
Javadekar said the rules were “very clear that a DM does not have the power to issue such a notice”.
The minister’s assertion came soon after Amit Khare, secretary of the Union information and broadcasting ministry, sent a strongly-worded letter to the Manipur chief secretary to ask him to withdraw the notice sent to the talk show ‘Khanasi Neinasi,’ which means ‘Let’s Talk’ in Manipuri.
Khare told chief secretary Rajesh Kumar that the digital media rules had not delegated the powers to ensure compliance to state governments, police commissioners or DMs.
The controversy erupted when a notice was served to the publisher or intermediary of ‘Khanasi Neinasi’ under the Information Technology (Intermediary guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which were notified on February 25. The notice was issued on March 1 by the DM of Imphal West district and served on Tuesday morning. “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 notice said, further directing the publisher/intermediary to “furnish all relevant documents that ensure compliance of the provisions” of the new rules, failing which, it warned, “steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice.”
This was probably the first instance in the country of such action against against a digital news platform.
Significantly, the programme is hosted on the Facebook page of Kishorechandra Wangkhem, an Imphal-based journalist, against whom the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has slapped several cases, also jailing him thrice. Reacting to the notice, Kishorechandra told HT, “We’ve hosted just four-five shows. The last show aired on February 28 and was titled ‘Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking a Tightrope.’” Kishorechandra, also an associate editor of Frontier Manipur, Kishorechandra spoke to HT over the phone from Imphal.
Frontier Manipur works in collaboration with a news portal called Seven Salai, and uses the latter’s infrastructure. Paojel Chaoba is the publisher and executive director of Frontier Manipur.
In January, Chaoba, along with Frontier Manipur editor-in-chief, Dhiren Sadokpam, was detained for more than 24 hours on the basis of an FIR filed by a police officer over an opinion piece titled ‘Revolutionary Journey in a Mess.’