ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Blank Spaces Speak

The protest by Nagaland editors is one that editors elsewhere should heed.

On 26 June 1975, a couple of English language daily newspapers ran blank spaces instead of editorials. They were protesting press censorship imposed by Indira Gandhi’s government when it proclaimed a state of internal emergency. In India’s North East, there has been a virtual state of emergency for decades. But for the first time, the local press in Nagaland decided things had gone too far. Three daily newspapers, Morung Express, Eastern Mirror and Nagaland Page, substituted their editorials with a blank space to mark 16 November, National Press Day. This was their dramatic rejoinder to attempts to curb the very freedom that day is supposed to denote. The blank spaces also spoke to the challenges that face the media in conflict areas, particularly if they decide that freedom of the press also means they are free to give expression to conflicting points of view. They also reminded us of the invisibility of the struggles of these journalists, who walk a tight rope between militant groups on the one side and the army and government on the other.

The provocation for the protest was a 25 October notice sent by the Assam Rifles to five media houses. It noted that these dailies had carried the press release of the banned National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) (NSCN (K)) threatening “senior lawmakers” of the Nagaland government and encouraging collection of funds. In the view of the Assam Rifles, this could be interpreted as abetting and aiding a banned group under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA). In response, in a joint statement issued on 15 November, the editors of the five media houses asked, “Is this an attempt to censor, weaken and ultimately silence the role of the media in Nagaland?” On 19 October, the Press Council of India (PCI) issued a suo motu notice asking the Assam Rifles the reasons behind the move. It also sought the Nagaland Chief Secretary’s report in the matter.

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