For the second time during the ongoing uprising, J&K Government has moved to gag the local press in Kashmir Valley. This time by banning the publication of a local newspaper Kashmir Reader for being a threat to peace. As has now become a familiar way to go about this, the police was sent to the office of the newspaper late in the evening to serve the gag order.
Earlier two weeks into the unrest in July, State Government in a midnight swoop had seized the newspapers in Srinagar and prevented their distribution. However, this time, the Government has confined its action to Kashmir Reader. The order issued by the District Magistrate, Srinagar says “the content of this newspaper can incite violence and disturb peace”. The Printer, Publisher and Owner of the newspaper has been told to abstain from printing and publishing of his newspaper till further orders so that disturbance of public tranquillity is prevented. The order, however, hasn’t mentioned a specific report or reports as a ground for the extreme step.
While, we condemn the arbitrary ban on Kashmir Reader, the government hasn’t been kind to other newspapers also. Over the past three months, there has been a deliberate attempt to reduce the advertisement share ostensibly to get the newspapers to moderate their coverage of the ongoing unrest in the state. This has further strained the resources of the local newspapers, traditionally dependent on the government adverts in the absence of a robust private sector in Valley. And with corporate adverts drying up due to continuous curfews and shutdowns, withholding of the government adverts has signalled a death knell for the local newspapers and brought some of them to the brink of closure..But despite these direct and subtle pressures, the local newspapers have continued to publish and report the current situation as fairly as possible. But even this doesn’t seem to be acceptable to the government. It is making it difficult for the newspapers to freely discharge their professional responsibility at a time when people in Kashmir need them the most.
But our onerous task remains cut out for us: it is to articulate and report the prevailing situation to the people in Kashmir and to the world. Our job is to reflect the reality as it exists on the ground, unencumbered by the crass agendas and the TRP centred focus of a section of the media from New Delhi.
Media freedom is a globally identifiable norm of a free society and so the government cannot be allowed to mess with it. We expect a strong protest from the champions of the press freedom in India and the world to J&K government’s increasingly uninhibited attempts to curb the press freedom. The ban on Reader may be selective targeting of one newspaper but it is a message to us all.
One expects the government now to ensure that the necessary space and access is allowed to the local press to do its job. At the same time, we can hardly afford to veer too conspicuously to either side of the opposite narratives on Kashmir. Our primary commitment is to the people of the state and an objective telling of their stories. And a truthful account of our collective tragedy is too stark and precious to be allowed to be subtracted by any embellishment, exaggeration or ideological slant.
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