IJU condemns Meghalaya police’s action

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD, Aug 16: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has condemned the high-handedness of the Meghalaya police in seeking to browbeat the news portal ‘Northeast Now’ to remove a news item and disclose its sources.
“Worse, the police have asserted that media houses had no journalistic privilege or any codification which prevents them from disclosing their sources,” the IJU stated in a release.
It said the issue has led to apprehension among Meghalaya’s media community, “wherein they fear police reprisal and misuse of power.”
The row started with Northeast Now carrying a news item
suggesting that former chief minister and Congress leader Mukul Sangma may join the BJP during its ongoing membership drive. The portal was sent a notice under Section 91 CrPC by special SP MGT Sangma, directing it to “remove the item,” describing it as “misinformation,” and asking it “provide the authenticity of the sources of information.”
The portal published the notice under the headline ‘Meghalaya police sends gag order to Northeast Now, demands source of information from journalists’.
Thereafter, Assistant IG (A), JK Ingarai, issued a press release to all the editors of the media in the state, justifying the notice, claiming that the item contained “rumours which may incite hatred or ill-will between different communities,” apart from “the intent to defame Mukul Sangma.”
He also said there was “no journalistic privilege or any codification that prevents media houses from disclosing their source of information as and when required.”
In a statement, IJU President D Amar and Secretary-General Sabina Inderjit said the notice was misuse of power as the news item was far from “inciting hatred or ill-will,” and that no criminal case had been registered.
More importantly, they said, the police could not compel the portal to disclose its sources, as the media’s right to protect its sources is internationally recognized and the Press Council of India’s norms of journalistic ethics too reiterates such a right.
Noting that the portal had later duly added Mukul Sangma’s tweet saying the item was “misinformation,” the IJU, along with the Northeast India Federation of Journalists, said the matter should have ended there.
“To persist and ask for the media outlet to disclose its source is unfair and arbitrary,” the IJU said, and demanded that the police withdraw its order against Northeast Now.