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'A hurdle in sustainable peace': Armyman calls local Manipur media partisan, unethical

Counterview Desk 

Alleging unethical and ‘ex parte’ reporting of incidents of Manipur by the local media, Col Anurag Pandey, Colenal General Staff (Information Warfare), for General Officer Commanding, in a letter* to Seema Mustafa, President, Editors Guild of India, has said that this has been a major hurdle in allowing "sustainable peace" to usher in in the State.
Stating that media outlets of Imphal valley, amidst internet ban, indulged in "outright misrepresentation of facts that violate all norms of journalistic ethics", and in the process may be "one of the major contributors to the instigation of further violence", the letter cites cases of large scale ‘unethical’ reporting being undertaken by the media.
"At a time when tensions between the two communities are running high, least that the vernacular media can do is to give peace a chance to come back to Manipur", the letter,  whose examples suggest how Kukis have been demonised, underlines.

Text:

I am writing to bring to your notice the partisan manner of reporting being undertaken by media outlets in the Imphal Valley in Manipur which incidentally could be playing a major role in arousing passion and not letting sustainable peace to come in.
As you are aware, the state of Manipur has been gripped by ethnic conflict since 03 May. As on date, 148 lives have been lost and there appears to be no end to the conflict in the near future. An internet ban was imposed on 04th May to prevent the spread of content that could inflame the sensitive situation.
However, the media outlets of Imphal valley have been indulging in outright misrepresentation of facts that violate all norms of journalistic ethics and in the process may be one of the major contributors to the instigation of further violence. The bias of the media in favour of one community and against the other community emerges clearly in their reportage.
The quantum of incorrect reporting being enormous, the undersigned would like to clearly establish the facts of the matter through three cases as illustrations, enumerated in succeeding paras.

Khamenlok

The incident revolved around a mob which had raided villages of Khamenlok and adjoining areas commencing 12 June. The mob was duly supported by womenfolk who blocked Army troops trying to reach the village, so that the mob could go about burning the village unhindered. After carrying out arson of multiple villages, members supporting/ those who actually undertook arson were killed in a retaliatory strike.
It was a clear case of the attackers being attacked. Few amongst those who got killed, not hailing from the area & the fact that they were killed in a village of the other community may serve to give an indication of turn of events on 13 June. Notwithstanding the truth, the newspapers in Imphal covered the incident as under:
(a) The Sangai Express/ Peoples Chronicle
(b) Imphal Free Press

Khoken village

The Kuki village of Khoken was attacked at 4 am on 09 June by armed miscreants dressed in police uniforms. Three people were killed in the incident, including a 67 year old woman who was shot in the village church. A large number of Meitei women began gathering in the adjoining village of Sangaithel when news spread that the Army was engaging the attackers in a gunfight. The names of the deceased were posted on Twitter by a Kuki handle by noon on 09 June. Attack on Khoken village (Kuki Village) by Kuki militants and all those killed being termed as Kuki militants (one 67 year old woman and one 70 yr old man) could well serve to be another black moment in journalism. The version of the incident covered by the Imphal based media outlets is as under:
(a) The Sangai Express
(b) People’s Chronicle
(c) Imphal Free Press

Ambulance burning

This incident was the nadir of journalism in Imphal and occurred in Iroisemba locality of Imphal. A seven-year old Kuki boy being evacuated to hospital for a bullet injury was burnt alive inside an ambulance with his Meitei mother and another relative by a mob of Meiteis at around 6 pm.
The father of the boy was a Kuki and that relation was enough to brand the entire family as belonging to the Kuki community. Two women and one child were burnt alive in the ambulance by the mob. The incident was completely blacked out by Imphal media, because it would project one community in poor light.
An incident that should have been front page headlines was conspicuously absent from the newspapers and completely glossed over. It was, however, picked up by some national media reporters on 06 June and eventually emerged on most national media portals by 07 June. Even there, a failed attempt was made to attribute responsibility of the burning to a Kuki mob.
Reputed media outlet which carried an incorrect version was forced to amend the story, only after an angry backlash across social media.
The cases highlighted above are just a few examples of large scale ‘unethical’ reporting being undertaken by vernacular media. At a time when tensions between the two communities are running high, least that the vernacular media can do is to give peace a chance to come back to Manipur.
I, therefore, request that an examination of the above reports be conducted to ascertain whether the guidelines for journalists and media houses have been violated by these media houses which appears one-sided and appropriate action be taken accordingly.
---
*Edited for style. Click here to see original letter

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