After the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) clarified that no inquiry was ordered against editors in Assam for protesting against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, online news portal InsideNE editor Afrida Hussain said "there is a game to gag the media and an attempt to create fear psychosis among the journalists" across the country.
"It is a game to gag the media. It is a mere tactic to suppress our voices, to create some sort of a fear psychosis. The complainant himself is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). We will not bow down. We are only doing our duty and will continue to do so," Hussain told indianexpress.com over the phone.
She added, "The media is continuously reporting the events in Kashmir. Now, will they be asked to stop doing their job?"
Speaking on similar lines, Nitumoni Saikia of Pratidin Time said, "It is a conspiracy. I don’t suppose the media is doing such a thing (promoting militant ideology)."
The Assamese journalists’ remarks came after the ministry slammed media reports and said the Centre has not asked the Assam government to conduct any inquiry against three editors, a journalist-activist and a TV channel for allegedly propagating "militant ideology... to give a fresh boost to ULFA" by protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016.
The ministry, reports said, had reportedly directed the Sarbananda Sonowal government to take "appropriate action" against two chief editors of Assamese news channels - Saikia of Pratidin Time and Ajit Kumar Bhuyan of Prag News - besides Hussain.
"This is absolutely baseless and a mischievous interpretation of facts. This is to clarify that the Union home ministry has not asked the government of Assam to initiate any enquiry against any editor or member of the press/media," a statement from the ministry said.
Speaking on similar lines, Assam Commissioner and Secretary (Home and Political) Ashutosh Agnihotri also said he was not in receipt of any such letter. "No, we are not in receipt of any such order," Agnihotri confirmed to The Indian Express.
Like Hussain, Bhuyan also referred to Kashmir and wondered if the media would be barred from reporting events from the disputed state. "The entire media is reporting on Kashmir and the activities of the separatists. What will happen to them? This is nothing but fear of psychosis. We will continue to fight and provide coverage to the protests. It is the duty of the media. We will continue to pass on the message of the people to the media," he said.
Besides the three journalists, the government had also reportedly sought action against "News 18-Assamese TV" (a probable reference to the Guwahati-based news channel owned by the Network 18 Group) and activist Manjit Mahanta.
The letter was based on a complaint by Vinay Joshi who heads the Maharashtra-based Legal Rights Observatory (LRO). In the letter, Joshi alleged that the media was propagating "militant ideology... to give fresh boost to ULFA" ever "since the issue of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 started creating waves in North East India".
"Since the issue of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 started creating waves in North East India, many media houses based in Assam started exploiting situation for their own benefit. Defunct militant group ULFA has launched fresh recruitment drive in Assam by using media created unrest... Aforesaid people and their electronic, digital and print media outlets are directly broadcasting videos and propaganda material of newly inducted militants in battle fatigue to propagate militant ideology and to give fresh boost to ULFA and other militant groups," the complaint said.
"If the government continues to ignore their blatant, violent propaganda, it will continue to create new militants with fresh blood in Assam and situation will worsen during Lok Sabha elections. On numerous occasions of recent past, all media outlets mentioned here have openly professed the need to take up arms to fight against central government and broadcasting propaganda videos of ULFA cadres along with telephonic interviews of absconding ULFA chief," it added.