No newspapers hit the stands on Saturday morning in Imphal.
All the 21 morning and evening newspapers in Imphal were asked by an insurgent group not to publish from Saturday. Besides, the main distributors and paper boys were warned against sale and delivery of the newspaper copies. If this is not heeded to editors, journalists, distributors and paper boys will be shot dead. Newspapers published in other districts are, however, exempted.
The outfit is inflamed that its press releases are not published by the newspapers in Imphal. Some editors told The Hindu that these press releases are spiked as a matter of policy. They explained that for a long time the newspapers have not been entertaining press releases of factions of the underground organisations. In a meeting held on Friday night, the Editors' Committee reaffirmed the stand. There are over 7,000 distributors for all districts and paper boys in the valley districts.
In the state where there are over 7,00,000 educated unemployed youths in the live registers of the employment exchanges, these persons who are self employed have been earning comfortable income.
The distributors and paper boys have been appealing to the outfit not to target them since their duty is to deliver copies of the newspapers and they are not connected with the coverage of news. However their appeal fell on deaf ears. One paper boy said in a meeting on Friday that they decided not to stick out their necks. Government sources said that no formal request for security has been received from the newspaper offices. They also added that all the police can do is to beef up the security measures near the newspaper offices.
It is anybody's guess when the stand off will end. Some years back one insurgent outfit kept some editors under house arrest for a whole night during which its press releases, which had been spiked, were published. On several occasions the local newspapers in Imphal could not bring out editions for weeks together when some rival outfits imposed incompatible conditions. One outfit said that if particular news is published, the papers will be closed down; while the other said that if it is not published these editions will be closed.
The threat cannot be taken lightly since over 5 editors and 3 journalists had been gunned down in Manipur. Besides every now and then bombs are planted in newspaper offices. On several occasions armed policemen were deployed in the newspaper offices and editors and senior journalists were escorted to their homes and back to office.
The readers who are denied of their newspapers are fuming. But there are indications that the stand off between the press and the outfit will continue for an indefinite period.