Skip to main content

Powerhouses in Kashmir 'expecting' media houses to act as their public relations

By Shubham Bijalwan, Abhishek Sanwaria*
The situation in Kashmir is grave. The territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has become a testing laboratory for several undemocratic practices. A quick scan of media reports on  J&K suggests, some half a dozen journalists have confirmed reports of unjust practices being followed by the government authorities to suppress individuals’ right to freedom of speech and expression.
There have been nearly 350+ instances of internet shutdown in India since 2014, more than half of which have taken place in the Kashmir Valley. Evidently, for Kashmir, internet shutdowns have become the new normal. The most recent internet lapse was enforced on August 5, 2019, right when Article 370 was diluted, giving special status to Kashmir.
Visibly, the powerhouses in Kashmir expect media houses to act as their PR. Almost every parallel thought a Kashmiri journalist has is delegitimized through force or by levying anti-national charges against media persons. Without adhering to the formal protocols, the reporters are summoned to local police stations for interrogation purposes regarding their findings.
Mentioned hereby is the sequence of events the new form of censorship brought in mid-2020 that has left many media houses paralyzed to operate in the Valley.
  • A region-wide curfew was put in place in J&K on August 4, 2019, imposing a complete ban on all communication channels, including landline, mobile network, and broadband.
  • On August 5, 2019, Government of India (GoI) revoked the ‘special status’ (Article 370) of J&K. Offices of newspapers and publishing houses were shut down for around three months. 
  • Anuradha Bhasin, editor of Kashmir Times, filed a petition in Supreme Court (SC) to restore communication in J&K on August 10, 2019. 
  • The next day, the government revoked sponsorship (significant ad revenues) for “Kashmir Times” and other newspapers. Evidently, newspapers were not able to sustain themselves. 
  • A woman independently fighting for the fundamental constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression and seeking basic freedom to practice a profession over the internet gets it all back from the government. Her Srinagar office got sealed. All the authorities, independence, and tools of a journalist were taken away. 

Media facilitation centres?

After the SC began hearing on November 19, 2019, communication was partially restored through landline telephones, but there was still no internet connection.
The local government started Media Facilitation Centres, which were small government-owned offices from where media houses had to conduct their operations under strict surveillance. At these centres, 100 to 200 journalists shared a common space, getting 15 minutes each.
  • On January 10, 2020, the SC verdict was passed, with a declaration that the government could not ban the internet for prolonged periods. Additionally, the verdict seemed to seek the government to review the situation.
  • Later, on June 2nd, 2020, a new media policy was announced to ensure that the government’s positive narrative reaches the people. The government also got the right to decide what is anti-national and fake. 
In a conversation with us about the implications of the Supreme Court’s judgment, Prabodh Jamwal, publisher of “Kashmir Times” said, “The SC declared the definition of a prolonged period to be 15 days, but then there is no clarity on whether the order could be revised every 15th day. Hence, the restriction continued for long durations.”
Anuradha Bhasin
As a follow-up, the SC did not remove restrictions even after taking five months to decide on the petition. Moreover, the J&K authorities sealed the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times in October 2020. 

Challenges faced by media persons

The journalists of the so-called paradise on earth regularly set off in fear of trepidation. They are repeatedly summoned, intimated, and detained by the government without giving sufficient justifications.
When the reporters publish the raw side of their opinions and stories on government policies,
  • The journalists are forcibly picked up from their houses and are interrogated for hours.
  • They are often charged with false cases of income tax fraud and hoax labor cases, involving them in terror trials. 
The government’s way of controlling the media is becoming sophisticated with each passing day.
During the ground research, it was found that currently, two journalists from Srinagar are facing criminal charges for writing anti-national news stories.
Apparently, these arrests are not formal summons:
  • The reporters are called up and interrogated against their will.
  • They are discouraged and threatened to write about real events. 
  • Their offices are shut down. 
  • They are accused of circulating fake news without conducting a thorough trial and investigation. 
  • They are not given a chance to take back the advertising support that helps a newspaper run its operations. 
Apart from what happened with “Kashmir Times”, there were other restrictions in place for the public at large and journalists specifically. Just after Article 370 was repealed in Kashmir, the government did not allow anyone from Jammu and Kashmir to travel outside of India. People belonging to J&K who wanted to travel abroad were detained at Delhi airport to contain the news of repeal within Kashmir.
One of the journalists, who did not wish to be identified, was detained on July 26, 2019, and was jailed for nine months for tweeting information about deploying additional troops in J&K.

Why separate media policy

The restrictions in Kashmir do not stop at newspapers and print media outlets. Some journalists reported that there are restrictions on what you can post on your social media accounts.
There are sophisticated algorithms deployed by social media giants that restrict the reach of posts with specific keywords. The availability of high-speed internet is also an issue, with BSNL being the only high-speed internet provider in the valley.
The J&K administration launched a new media policy on June 2, 2020, which further supported it in going after the reporters and publications that do not toe the state’s line.
The answer to “Why does one need a separate media policy for J&K?” could be because the government officers can now decide for themselves what comes under the fake news category and thereby taking actions against the reporters. As a matter of fact, it is not a professional team of experts handling the decision. The information department officers exercise these implementations.
Imagine how there would never be any honest and raw story published against the administration since it is in the hands of the government to decide what finds its way to the public and what doesn’t.
This move is essential to gag the media - The fourth pillar of the democracy. The fact that the administration thought it is necessary to have a different media policy for Kashmir is astonishing and demotivating.
As per the policy, any news item can be termed as fake or influenced by external propaganda by the administration comprising civil servants. The new committee with the decision-making authority on fake or anti-national news has no civilian representation or journalism expertise.
One of the heads under which a news item can be squashed from being published is cross border infiltration. The grey area with this classification is that there is no formal way to decide whether a news item has any cross-border filtration links.
It is at the discretion of a few selected individuals who act as the puppets of the state authorities. Another clause of the policy is that every journalist has to share their data with the investigative agency compulsorily, which is a breach of an individual’s privacy.
In the kind of environment that prevails in Jammu & Kashmir, this is just another nail in the coffin to silence any dissent from journalists.
*** 
Having heard many hoax stories from journalists who scream on television, it was a remarkably satisfying experience to listen to sincere journalists from Jammu & Kashmir. We take pride in playing a small role in spreading awareness about Media Censorship in India, particularly in Kashmir. This article highlights the key excerpts from our interaction with Anuradha Bhasin and Pramod Jamwal, the editor-in-chief and publisher of "Kashmir Times".
---
Second-year PGP students, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

Comments

sanju said…
Pakistani and kasmiri news which was proclaimed secular is kashmir secular?
We respect islam but not jihad but neither of muslim world protest against jihad ar jihad pakisatani,terrorist . If you are real islam than protest about all violence of all religion even islam also
One more thing you had soft heart for pakistan but not india but remember that kashmir full indian part if you want to islami state so 56 country you have.ok so go there .

TRENDING

Political consensus? Celebrations, with over 5,000 plus post-vaccine deaths in India

By Rosamma Thomas*  As India fully vaccinated nearly 20% of its population and celebrated the “milestone” of administering one billion (100 crore) Covid-19 vaccine doses, it was time to remember those who died shortly after vaccination . By October 20, 2021 Twitter handle C400T, tracking deaths reported to have occurred after receiving the Covid-19 shot in India, updated the 5,134th death.

Billion vaccine doses? Devil is in details: 70% haven't got 2nd jab; numbers jacked up

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  India has reached the one billion Covid-19 vaccinations milestone. It is indeed a great news and a big salute to the less paid ordinary health-workers in interiors of India for this feat. The government wants all of India's 944 million adults to get vaccinated this year. Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated, the government says.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Is sacrilege charge against Punjab Dalits any different from Pak blasphemy cases?

Lakhbir Singh, his wife By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  There is no doubt that Sikhism actually was a revolt against the Brahmanical system and superstition. Guru Granth Saheb is perhaps the only Holy Book which contains matters from different religions as well as those of various Sufi saints, including Kabir, Ravidas, Baba Farid and others. The aim of Sikhism was to create an egalitarian society, and, definitely, Punjab that way is far better than many other States in India, where violence against Dalits is rampant.

Failure of 'trickle down theory' behind India's poor Global Hunger Index rating

By Dr Gian Singh*  On October 14, 2021, two organisations, Concern Worldwide (An Irish aid agency) and WeltHungerHilfe (a German organization that researches the problem of global hunger), jointly published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. These organizations have included 116 countries in the world hunger rankings.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Uttarakhand, Kerala disaster due to policies favouring India's developmental mafia

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Two of India’s most beautiful regions where thousands of people go to watch and feel the wonders of nature are suffering because of the extremely disastrous rains and floods. The pain that the rains brought to Kerala and Uttarakhand is a warning to all of us. It's nature’s warning to us to mend our ways.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Religious mobs replicate blasphemy laws, 'threatening' liberty in a free country

Nihangs, Lakhbir Singh By Ajit Singh*   A Dalit man, Lakhbir Singh, was mercilessly beaten up and lynched to death near farmers’ protest site in the State of Haryana allegedly by Nihang Sikhs. It was alleged that he committed blasphemy by desecrating the Holy Book Guru Granth Sahib.

March opposes Sabarmati Ashram renovation: 'Mahatmaji had kept open for access to all'

Counterview Desk A Sevagram to Sabarmati march, which began on October 17 from Wardha (Maharashtra) and will end on October 24 in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), has demanded that the Sabarmati Ashram, the government should not impose "the fashion and glitz of a shallow modernity" at the cost of Rs 1,200 crore, in the name of renovating the Ashram founded by Gandhiji.