The Foundation for Media Professionals has expressed serious concern over the privilege motion brought against journalists in Manipur.
The Manipur Legislative Assembly charged journalist Grace Jajo with “breach of privilege” for sharing a link to a news report on Facebook on February 20 and denied entry to the State Assembly on the last day of session on February 22.
The news report pertained to an explanation submitted to the Manipur State 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,” Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) president Samrat Choudhury said in a statement.
She was later served a notice informing her that her Assembly pass had been revoked because ‘her act amounts to demeaning the process taken up by the Assembly Secretaria’, the statement said.
“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 added.
The shared report also provided links to the 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”, it said.
Choudhury said, “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.”
Earlier, sedition charges were leveled against journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem “multiple times” for social media posts.
He recently spent three months in jail for a Facebook post drawing attention to a spat on Instagram between the wife and girlfriend of a minister.
Expressing concern over the action against Grace Jajo, Choudhury said “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”.
He said the word “drama” has “multiple meanings in the dictionary” and if its use “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 has called upon the media organisations 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 environmental activist Disha Ravi, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments”.
Foundation for Media Professionals hoped the offence of breach of privilege would not be invoked for similar reasons.