The Governments decision to stop advertisements to Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader has been a source of deep concern for the media fraternity and the society at large in Kashmir. Kashmir Editors Guild has already taken a serious note of it. On Sunday by and large all major dailies from Kashmir, including this one, decided to come out with a blank front page in protest against the Government decision which is yet to be explained. Senior editors and the journalists also held a protest at the Kashmir Press Club. However, the government has yet to review the order. Hopefully, the government may do so in near future.
The order is patently unjust. More so, when Kashmir media has always followed the highest standards of journalism. They have displayed exemplary courage and competence to get the story out and show the world the situation as it really is and allow the unheard to find a voice. They have also played a role in articulating a very complex situation largely free of the political and ideological bias unlike many of their counterparts from outside the state.
More so, when the media in Kashmir, comprising a robust English and vernacular press has a particularly unenviable job to do. The problems faced by it are both universal to the conflict situations and unique to the state. One of the major problems bedeviling the freedom of expression in the state is the economic sustainability of the local newspapers. Being a place with only a fledgeling private sector and little industrial presence, government advertising is a predominant source of revenue for the newspapers. This gives government enormous power to influence news agenda. This renders the local press prone to the pulls and pressures from the various interests in the state, albeit on the whole, the local media has managed to skirt such pressures and done an excellent job of covering the prevailing extraordinary situation in the state.
This is despite the fact that compared to the other conflict situations in the world, the media in Kashmir is perennially caught between three parallel narratives Indian, Pakistani and Kashmirs own grassroots discourse. These narratives clash, compromise and overlap on a daily basis. Every incident and event in the state has therefore a three-dimensional reality that often ends up obscuring their true import. While this reality of Kashmir will take time to sort out, the immediate challenges facing the media in the state is its economic viability. And the government by apparently trying to use the advertisements distributed by it to influence the content of the newspapers is only making things more difficult. This is why it is important that the government reverses the unfair order at the earliest and let the media in Kashmir do its work.