The art of gagging media and denying it

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For the past three days, state government stopped the publication of the newspapers in Valley. On Friday, in a midnight raid, the government seized the copies of the Kashmir Observer and the other local English and the Urdu  dailies to prevent their distribution. The pattern was the same as followed by the NC-Congress government in 2010: don’t give any prior information to the editors in Valley. Don’t even inform them what the Government in its wisdom thinks is wrong in their reportage. Even don’t issue a statement which gives government’s own viewpoint of the prevailing situation. Don’t show an order or a declaration of emergency, for example. Just send police men in the dead of night and get everything shutdown. And the day after adopt silence over what happened.  

The modus operandi, however, hasn’t come as a surprise to anybody. This is the Standard Operating Procedure of any J&K state government. It doesn’t matter which party is in power. For all of them, behave predictably. Once in government, each of the two parties who have been ruling us are de-ideologized and depoliticized and merge indistinguishably into an apathetic, impersonal  establishment. Their governance becomes sterile and bureaucratic. They go about their business in a vacuum. And when the turmoil like the one unfolding now stares them in the face, the senior government functionaries give disingenuous explanations if not plainly seek to lie their way out  of it. The overriding instinct of governance, however, is the use of force to get around every problem. And to add insult to the injury, then claim innocence and the lack of knowledge. Three days after the ban on newspapers, the advisor to Chief Minister Amitabh Mattoo has claimed that the gag didn’t have Mehbooba’s consent. He said the decision was taken at the local level and for which “heads will roll”. And senior PDP leader and the former Deputy  Chief Minister Muzaffar Beigh told a news channel that the CM was betrayed by some police officers.

Such statements from the senior government functionaries, three days after the ban was imposed, make little sense. They would seem hilarious if the matter was not so grave and the issue at stake so important. One can ask, if CM was not in the loop, why didn’t  Government make its stand clear the day after the newspaper offices were raided? Why did the eminences who denied CM was involved, wait for three days and make this revelation only after they got a spot for themselves on prime time television. And even if it is true, why CM is taking the challenge to her authority lying down?

The media in Kashmir, comprising a robust English and vernacular press and online sites, have a particularly unenviable job to do. The problems faced by it are both universal to the conflict situations and unique to the state.  It is hobbled by the dearth of the advertising resources and the dependence on the government advertisements. But despite that, media has done an amazing job in Kashmir by reporting honestly and objectively the situation in the state. Even now we were discharging the same onerous responsibility to the best of our ability when the state government chose to put a stop to it and in the crudest way possible.  Least amends that the government can make is to own up to its ill-advised decision to ban publication of newspapers for four days. 

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