Story Versus State

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THE story about the journalist Auqib Javeed’s ordeal at the Srinagar ‘s cyberpolice station carried by an online portal Article 14 makes for a chilling reading. In the story Auqib says he was called to cyberpolice station and slapped and bullied there over a report that ironically highlighted the similar treatment reportedly meted out to other journalists and social media users over the past some time.

It beggars belief that a journalist has had to go through so much for a story done professionally and that also carried the version of the police. Going by the police rebuttal of Auqib’s version of the events at the cyberpolice station, it is clear that police has problems chiefly with the headline and the photograph of the story. But Auqib was not responsible for both of them. Headline and the photographs are the discretion of the editors and the reporter’s job ends once he has sent the report that has all the necessary facts and accounts of all the sides involved.

Given the sensitive nature of the story filed by Auqib and his consequent mindfulness about the reaction of the state agencies, he had left no stone unturned to make the story as objective as possible. He talked to the Superintendent of Police at Cyberpolice station Tahir Ashraf Bhatti about the growing incidence of the journalists and the social media users being reportedly summoned and harassed over their stories and the posts. Bhatti was quoted in the story so were the alleged victims of police harassment. Normally, there should have been no reason to find fault with the story. But that was not to be. Auqib had to allegedly go through a distressing experience similar to the victims in his story.

And it is a tragedy. Journalists in the Kashmir Valley have been doing their jobs against tough odds. The long troubled situation, more so, the ongoing turmoil, has made it ever more difficult to report. The profession of journalism as a whole is in a crisis: While economic sustainability of the local newspapers is becoming moot by the day, scores of journalists who have no regular jobs have taken to freelancing for outside publications to make ends meet. They are paid inadequately for the stories for which they run the risk of being hauled to police stations and sometimes having serious cases instituted against them. As things stand, they seem to have become a fair game for the police which now keeps a hawk’s eye on even the full stop and comma of the stories being reported from the Kashmir Valley. Ironically, the same police also overlooks the worst personal attacks on the institution when these are mounted from outside J&K. It is time that this stops. Government should ensure Kashmiris have the same normal freedom of expression exercised by the people in other parts of the country.

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