2 Manipur scribes get notices under new digital media rules

Served over a discussion on “Media Under Siege”, they were withdrawn hours later

Two Manipur-based journalists have arguably become the first ones to be slapped with notices under the newly notified Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 over an online discussion titled “Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Walking A Tight Rope”.

But the March 1 notices from Naorem Praveen Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Imphal West district, was withdrawn hours after Paojel Chaoba and Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha received them on Tuesday.

Mr. Chaoba is the executive editor and Mr. Wangkhemcha is the associate editor of The Frontier Manipur (TFM), a digital media outlet. The duo and two others — independent journalist Grace Jajo and columnist Ninglun Hanghal — had taken part in the discussion on February 28.

The withdrawal of notices followed a letter from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to Rajesh Kumar, Manipur’s Chief Secretary, pointing out that the powers to wield the new digital media rules “have not been delegated to State governments/District Magistrate/Police Commissioner”.

Mr. Chaoba, who is also the publisher of the TFM, said his family found the withdrawal notice put on the gate of their house in the evening.

“It is to inform you that this office notice of even number dated March 1, 2020 served to you stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” the notice read.

In the earlier notice, the two editors were directed to furnish all relevant documents showing they comply with 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”.

Mr. Chaoba said the notices demonstrated misuse of power by the State authorities.

“The new IT rules are being used to intimidate journalists, as was evident from six-seven armed policemen who came to deliver the first notice at 9 a.m. today [Tuesday]. The Deputy Commissioner retracted the notice because he is not empowered under the Act,” he told The Hindu.

Mr. Wangkhemcha, who had been jailed twice for his political views on social media, said it was funny as well as shocking that a discussion on the new digital media rules invited a notice. “We had discussed the IT rules in the context of Manipur, where journalists are in a tight spot.

“The IT rules are new. A lot of journalists and activists are advocating their withdrawal or amendment. The largest daily of Manipur recently faced a threat. The publication was stopped for a couple of days in protest. So, we spoke about all those things in the programme.”

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