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FMP STATEMENT ON PRIVILEGE MOTION AGAINST JOURNALISTS IN MANIPUR

FMP statement on privilege motion against journalists in Manipur

The Manipur Legislative Assembly has charged a local journalist, Grace Jajo, with breach of privilege for sharing a link to a news report on Facebook. That report pertained to an explanation submitted to the assembly by a news website, The Frontier Manipur, which was earlier charged with breach of privilege. Jajo had shared the article titled “The Frontier Manipur offers explanation on breach of privilege and contempt of House notice” with the comment “Drama from the assembly”. Following her post on Facebook, the assembly security staff physically prevented Jajo from entering the assembly to report on proceedings despite carrying valid permissions, and she was later served a notice informing her that her Assembly pass had been revoked because “her act amounts to demeaning the process taken up by the Assembly Secretariat.”
The article whose link she had posted explained that The Frontier Manipur had been charged with breach of privilege and contempt for reproducing statements made by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on the floor of the House, as reported in a press release issued by the state government’s Directorate of Information and Public Relations. It also provided links to that DIPR release. The article held to be offensive was headlined “State has no say regarding AFSPA, it is under the purview of union govt, says CM Biren”.
The Manipur state government has been building a steady reputation at a national level for its quite astonishing use of state power to curb criticism, however faint. A journalist, Kishorchandra Wangkhem, has been charged with sedition multiple times for social media posts. Most recently he spent three months in jail for a Facebook post drawing attention to a spat on Instagram between the wife and girlfriend of a minister.
In the present instance, concerning Grace Jajo and The Frontier Manipur, it appears that factual reporting on assembly proceedings, as reported by the government’s own press release, has somehow been construed as a breach of privilege, and sharing the explanation submitted to the assembly has been viewed as a further breach. If use of the word “drama”, which has multiple meanings in the dictionary, constitutes sufficient grounds for invoking breach of privilege then it is unlikely that a free press or democracy can survive such hyper-sensitivity. The Foundation for Media Professionals calls upon media organisations everywhere to consider the issues raised by this case, and the series of sedition cases for social media posts that preceded it in Manipur and elsewhere.  
As a Delhi court observed recently in a matter pertaining to young environmental activist Disha Ravi, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments”.
We hope that the offence of breach of privilege will not be invoked for similar reasons.

Samrat Choudhury (President), Revati Laul (Director)