Are There New Laws to Muzzle the Media Now?
Nagaland Governor PB Acharya calling on PM Modi in Delhi (file pic): now in the eye of a storm
DIMAPUR: Strange and stranger things happen across the globe but it appears that the strangest happen only in Nagaland. By now, the Assam Rifles-Nagaland Press “stand-off” is well known even globally and it appeared that the ubiquitous fickle public attention was beginning to divert elsewhere but none less than our Governor himself has given it another fresh lease of life.
Governor of Nagaland and Assam, PB Acharya, has stated that Assam Rifles had done what is prescribed under law vis-à-vis its notification to five Nagaland newspapers. According to The Times of India report, the Governor has said: “As per the law, the Assam Rifles had done the right thing. Any banned organization will not get the publicity in our newspapers. If they (armed outfits) are in peace agreement with the Government, their statements can come in the newspapers”.
He further added, “There is a Central law which prohibits publicity of banned outfits. Let law takes its own course”, at Guwahati on November 22, 2015, while contending that as NSCN-K is a banned organization, the Assam Rifles had to send the notification.
The question that must be posed to the Governor is: “what law?” Which law empowers the Assam Rifles or any other security force and para-military force to issue dicta to the Fourth Estate, as well as to the State Government?
The Indian Constitution is very clear on the freedoms and duties of the Press, as much as it is clear about the Central and State Government’s roles and responsibilities ~ perhaps our Governor needs to refresh his memory as regards our Constitution?
Or are we to understand that seeing that till now our State Government, for that matter even the Central Government, especially the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, under which the Assam Rifles operate across the country, has remained silent on the issue, perhaps our Governor has been entrusted to speak on the behalf of the two Governments’?
The Nagaland Press, as indeed the Press in India, also has the right to know whether Governor Acharya is speaking on behalf of the Central and Nagaland Governments. Besides, as the Governor has reportedly stated: “There is a Central law which prohibits publicity of banned outfits…” does he, as well as the Central and Nagaland Government, believe that the Assam Rifles or any other security force in the country is the right agency with the mandate to “…prohibits publicity of banned outfits…”?
Both the Central and Nagaland Government must clarify this matter at the earliest because it is only then the exact position and status of the State of Nagaland and all the Estates of democratic Estates thereof ~ the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the Fourth Estate ~ would be revealed, notwithstanding Article 375 (A) of the Indian Constitution.
In fact, this is crucial for it would reveal to the world exactly where Nagaland, and indeed the rest of the Northeastern states, stand in the larger scheme of the Indian narrative, which is making waves and attracting global attention as an investment destination and as an heir to endowments of the 21st century.
Then again, does the Constitution empower Governors to speak, or even usurp, the power, and the roles and responsibilities of a democratically-elected Government(s); in the event Governors do that without clarifying that s/he is merely stating personal opinion(s), and is not the opinion of the Government(s) or reflect the opinion of the Government(s)?
In this particular instance, it appears that the Governor is not averse to para-military and security forces attempting to muzzle the press under the guise of “prohibiting publicity of banned outfits”, which could be an euphemism for “curbing and containing insurgency, militancy, and even terrorism. Doesn’t this sort of give the impression that the Constitution could be relegated to the background under certain circumstance evoking the spectre of the Emergency proclaimed in the mid-1970s?
Clearly, the issue here is much more than merely the “stand-off” between the Assam Rifles and the Press in Nagaland ~ the issue here is of the very status and position of the Fourth Estate in India, seeing that conflict, in whatever form, is increasingly the hallmark of the country’s political spectrum.
The other thought that need to be expressed at the risk of inviting further censure ~ sensitive states like Nagaland and others Northeastern states, and other conflict-ridden states, need heads of states that are well-versed with the Constitution, as also sensitive to the sensitivities of the people, although political compulsions may dictate otherwise.
(The Editors Guild of India issued a statement saying:
The Editors Guild of India expresses its deep concern regarding the recent order of the Assam Rifles to severely curtail the freedom of Nagaland-based media houses. The order saw five newspapers in the state publish blank editorials as a mark of protest. The Guild applauds and supports the newspapers for demonstrating their unwillingness to follow the pernicious order by the Assam Rifles which had warned them against carrying statements by militant groups,
especially the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), since it had been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Centre. It is reprehensible that the Assam Rifles sought to censor the newspapers by threatening to punish them under the Unlawful Prevention of Activities Act (1967) if they violated the order. It is common knowledge that newspapers being published in zones having unresolved issues and conflict, there are many views and opinions that are expressed. While everyone appreciates that police has a role to play in maintain law and order, it is important for newspapers in the spirit of fairness and objectivity to report divergent opinions after due diligence and with responsibility. Any restrictions on coverage of legitimate news or effort to silence the media is as an assault on the freedom of the Press which the Editors Guild condemns.
The Editors Guild urges the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to intervene and lift the order in the interest of press freedom. The Guild views positively the offer of Nagaland media houses to work with the democratically elected Government of Nagaland on issues that would enable the media to function freely and address any objections in a peaceful and constructive manner.”)