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State governments can’t issue notices to media houses under new digital media rules: I&B Secy

State governments, district magistrates, or police commissioners do not have the authority to issue notices to media companies under the new digital news media rules — this power lies only with the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, I&B secretary Amit Khare clarified in a letter to Manipur’s chief secretary, Rajesh Kumar on Tuesday. MediaNama has seen a copy of the letter and its authenticity was confirmed by a senior government official.

Khare wrote to the Manipur government after the state’s police showed up in a contingent to deliver a letter to Manipur-based journalist Paojel Chaoba, demanding compliance from the hosts of a weekend video show titled Khanasi Neinasi. Imphal West district magistrate Naorem Praveen Singh issued the notice, demanding that the show’s publisher/intermediary— The Frontier Manipur — comply with the new digital media rules, else action would be taken against them. Significantly, this notice came only days after the rules were notified.

After receiving the letter, the state government reportedly issued another notice to the journalist, informing him that the earlier notice was withdrawn with immediate effect.

The rules require digital news publishers to notify the government of their operations, set up self-regulatory organisations and apply a complaints redressal mechanism, as well as follow codes which have only been applicable to print and TV news so far. However, the direct threats issued by the text of the letter (“failing [provision of documents showing Frontier Manipur and Khanasi Neinasi are compliant with the Rules] steps as deemed fit shall be initiated without further notice”), and the way it was delivered, by a detachment of police, appear designed to suppress criticism, a possibility that news organisations have expressed concern about.

Journalists involved with Khanasi Neinasi were booked under sedition charges in 2021, Scroll reported. Previous charges under the National Security Act against journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem were set aside by the Manipur High Court, but only after he had spent around five months in prison.

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Aroon Deep contributed reporting.

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