Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) in a statement, mentioned the recent observation by a Delhi court in a matter pertaining to young environmental activist Disha Ravi, which stated, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments”.
Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) called upon media organisations everywhere to consider the issues raised by the case concerning independent journalist Grace Jajo and The Frontier Manipur, and the series of sedition cases for social media posts that preceded it in Manipur and elsewhere.
A statement by FMP on Wednesday stated that 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”.
Recalling the ordeal, FMP said that 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despite carrying valid permissions, and she was later served a notice informing her that her Assembly pass had been revoked because “her act amounts to demeaning the process taken up by the Assembly Secretariat.”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 the union govt, says CM Biren”, the statement added.
FMP, in the statement, further said that 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, it added.
“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.”
FMP also contended that if the 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 statement also mentioned the recent observation by a Delhi court in a matter pertaining to young environmental activist Disha Ravi, which stated, “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,” it added.
It may be mentioned that the Manipur Legislative Assembly Secretariat on Tuesday sent a letter to the editor of The Aja, a local daily, regarding the revocation of Assembly pass issued to Grace Jajo.
The letter written by Manipur Legislative Assembly PRO Raju Yanglem stated that the Assembly Secretariat was “constrained” to revoke the Press Gallery Card issued to Grace Jajo (temporary reporter) following a Privilege motion initiated against her.
It said that on February 20, 2021 Grace posted a link of the “thefrontiermatipur.com” with the headline, “The Frontier Manipur offers explanation on breach of privilege and contempt of House notice”. In the post she wrote “Drama from the Assembly”, it added.
“Her act amounts to demeaning the process taken up by the Assembly Secretariat functioning according to the Rules of Procedure of Conduct of Business in Manipur Legislative Assembly. Taking serious note of her intentionally trying to malign the official procedure amounting to Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House, the matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges and Ethics, Manipur Legislative Assembly. Following the Privilege motion she had been barred from entering the Assembly complex on February, 22, 2021.”
The letter further added that the same was also intimated to the editor of The Aja over phone the same day by the Press Advisory Committee, Manipur Legislative Assembly.
On Tuesday, Grace held a press conference in which she alleged that she was harassed by security personnel inside the Assembly complex on Monday when she went to cover the session as usual.Foundation for Media Professionals, Grace Jajo and The Frontier Manipur, breach of privilege case