As if the existing unfavourable climate for the media in Kashmir wasn’t bad enough, J&K Government has come up with a new media policy that gives it powers to decide what fake, unethical and anti-national news is. And if it finds any journalist or media organization culpable on these counts, it will take legal action against the journalist or media organisation concerned including stopping government advertisements.
These actions are not new. Many such actions have been undertaken over the past year or so. Journalists have complained of being called to police stations over a story not deemed factually right. Sometimes they have also complained of being questioned over their social media posts. In some cases, FIRs have also been filed over the news stories and the social media comments. Government’s rationale for the policy is “the significant law and order and security considerations”, making it “extremely important that the efforts of anti-social and anti-national elements to disturb peace are thwarted.” The new policy has made mandatory a background check of newspaper publishers, editors and key staff before empanelling them for government advertisements, apart from security clearance before a journalist is given accreditation.
The policy has deepened the anxiety among the local media which has been at the receiving end of the extraordinary situation following the revocation of Article 370 on August 5. The security lockdown and the communication blockade that followed the decision has hit the Kashmir media hard. Journalists didn’t have an internet connection to get their stories out. The newspapers too struggled to get the news content. Though the government later put together ‘Media Facilitation Centre’, initially only with four computers, it made no difference. The communication gag has been eased since, with the media given high-speed access to internet, but this hasn’t made any redeeming difference to the prevailing pathetic state of journalism. Logistically, the situation may have eased, it has progressively worsened in terms of freedom of expression as recent FIRs against some senior journalists bear this out.
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. The local newspapers have similarly played a great role by articulating the prevailing situation for the people in Valley and for the world. The local media with its exclusively Valley-centric focus has helped uncover the shades of the truth that have otherwise found little resonance in the larger Kashmir debate. The administration should therefore have let the media be. More so, when Kashmir media has generally behaved professionally and responsibly. Also, the media needs an environment free of control as much as the government needs a free media. This gives it a better comprehension of the situation as it is, not as it wants it to be.
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