‘A new normal’

Witoubou Newmai

Curtailing free press is an assault on the freedom of collective conscience

The number of journalists jailed worldwide “for doing their jobs” is near record high, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The watchdog reported, after its “annual study,” that 251 journalists have been “jailed for doing their jobs as of December 1.” The CPJ then succinctly said, “It looks like a trend now…it looks like the new normal.”

It is pertinent to be pointed out here that the continuing falling in the annual World Press Freedom Index, with regard to India, published by the international non-profit and non-governmental watchdog Reporters Without Borders reflects growing challenges for the media houses in the country.

The latest case of the arrest of a journalist in Manipur can be cited here to go closer for fine tuning on the challenges faced by the media persons in our region. The Manipur journalist arrest case has been reported even by the BBC few days ago.

On December 22, the Human Rights Alert (HRA) had petitioned Professor David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, requesting to issue an “urgent appeal to release Kishorechandra Wangkhem held under National Security Act for criticizing the BJP-government of India.”

According to the petition of the HRA, on November 19, Kishorechandra, working with the Information Service Television Network (ISTV), posted a video on his personal Facebook account “expressing his anger and frustration with the BJP-led government” celebrating Rani Jhanhi, which has little to do with the freedom struggle of Manipur.

“He expressed his indignation toward the Hindutva ideology, which seeks to obliterate the distinct history and identity of Manipur into a monolithic pan-Hindu identity of India,” the HRA petition said.

On November 21, Kishorechandra was arrested by Manipur police by filing FIR no. 236(11)2018 Imphal Police Station under section 124-A/294 and 500 of Indian Penal Code.

Given the present trend, and the “new normal” all over the world, it has extremely become important for all concerned to “address” the measures of the powers-that-be, who are, through their numerous agencies, trying to ‘discourage’ the media houses from doing what they are supposed to do.

It can also be noted here that summons served to journalists by those agencies have become a common practice today. In a way, these agencies of the powers-that-be are trying to become the virtual agenda setters of media houses. Small and ‘regional’ newspapers are experiencing the brunt of those agencies the most.

The whole affair, perhaps, is an assault on the freedom of collective conscience.