IFJ Protests Ulfa threat to journalists over reports of 'secret deal' with Assam government

NEW DELHI: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned threats from the outlawed United Liberation front of Assam (Ulfa) to the privately-owned satellite channel North East Television (NETV) after it reported that the group and the government in Assam may have links and warned that authorities must not join forces with the group to intimidate media.

NETV, the only private satellite channel in Northeast India, said the outlawed terrorist outfit ULFA told station director Manoranjana Sinh to prove allegations that the group is working with the government or stop broadcasting and to leave Assam or “face dire consequences.” Government officials have also criticised the channel’s reports.

“It is a shocking that NETV has been threatened by a militant group for its stories and the government has done nothing about it except criticise the station as well,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “The government should be protecting independent reporting in general and NETV in particular, not joining forces with ULFA to intimidate media.”

The IFJ says there are legal procedures for libel if the government believes that NETV has been untruthful, but it should not allow militant groups to threaten media over stories it does not like.

The threats from ULFA came just a day after Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi publicly criticised NETV and said in general the media is producing anti–establishment news. The criticism was spurred by NETV’s reports that the Assam government had paid money to buy a truce with ULFA for the smooth conduct of the National Games scheduled to be held in the region from 9 to 18 February.

Observers believe those reports may have prompted the government to enlist ULFA to threaten media outlets, including NETV. According to press reports, the ULFA commander-in-chief has threatened that NETV must either prove the veracity of reports that the Assam government had paid money to buy peace with ULFA, withdraw its reports or leave Assam immediately.

The IFJ is calling on the government to intervene to stop the harrassment and threats against NETV and its staff and to ensure that all media in the region are able to report independently.

This is not the first case of official pressure on NETV, which has upset government officials in the past with its reporting. A few months ago, the state government of Assam ransacked the offices of the channel. The Congress Youth Wing president has also criticised the channel, asking it to withdraw stories clearly established several legitimate cases of land-grabbing for which the Youth Wing President was responsible.

“If the government is using ULFA and threats of violence to suppress reporting that it does not like, it will set a terrible precedent for press freedom in the region,” White said. “The Assam government must act quickly to prevent this situation from dealing a serious blow to press freedom in India.”

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