A year after the abrogation of Article 370 journalists are having a tough time reporting from the fringes
Amid the growing challenge of fake news and rising interference of government in media houses, journalism is facing a tough time in the 21st century. While the national media continues to paint an “all is well” picture around Jammu and Kashmir, for journalists in the valley the job gets tougher every day especially since the security clampdown post-August 5. While journalists in the valley have been booked or summoned by authorities to question their publications, they are being seen with the prism of nationalism. Now, a new Media Policy for the UT has become the bone of contention.
In June 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir administration passed a new framework ‘Media Policy 2020’ aimed at creating a “sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in media.” The policy gives the administration power to define news as per their convenience along with full control to decide what is “anti-social and anti-national.” It also proposes a “background check” of newspaper owners and journalists alike.
Under this policy, created by the Department of Information and Public Affairs and security agencies, the authorities will examine the content for “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities.”
The policy has gained enough criticism from the media circles and the last two months saw widespread protests against it. “The new media policy is bizarre. It is an attempt further to mug free press” in Kashmir, says 23-year-old Aakash Hassan. Hassan is a freelance journalist working in the valley for the past five years. Hassan is not the only one who sees the policy as oppressive.
The Vice-President of Kashmir Press Club, Moazam Mohammad said, “After August 5, the government first resorted to an information blackout, due to which the press became virtually defunct and journalists could not report properly. Now, this new media policy has been announced, which clearly violates the freedom of speech and expression and other constitutional guarantees including Article 19(1) (a). The intent behind this policy is clear – the government wants to demolish the press in J&K,” he said while talking to The Wire.
The everlasting turmoil in Kashmir
Hassan admits that “reporting in Kashmir was difficult for me from day one.” He recalls instances when journalists get calls from authorities for doing a particular story. He says “at times Police officials call us or our family members to ask about out details,” including phone passwords and other details.
Umar Shah, 32, a journalist in South Asian Inter Press Service, echoes similar views. He says that through this policy “the government has legalized the mugging of the free press in Kashmir.” Adding to this, Shah says, “there is not the only threat to journalists, it is at times extended to their peers and locals as well. Since the turmoil has been going on for decades, trust is a rarity now.
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Mohd. Aadil, (name changed), 30, sharing his experiences of working as a journalist in the valley said that in his career of three years since 2017, he saw more pressure from his peer journalists. He was first questioned by his fellow reporter for running a piece. It is more difficult to report from his own district as he becomes an easy target. Due to that reason, he does not report locally now. He emphasizes, “with the new media policy, it will be more difficult” to report.
Aadil shares an incident where his house was raided a few weeks ago for doing a story on violence in southern Kashmir for an international organization. He recalls, “I was outside my house at night, around 200-metres away. I saw a big vehicle pulling across the road. I did not think much about it because it is a busy road. Some people in uniform came out of it and went towards my house. I later got a call from a friend who told me that they had already searched my house and took my laptop and phone. Now, they were asking my passwords. I tried to convince them that the story was done only after talking to their commander. But this person started abusing me and threatening me saying he was the “commander.” The next day I talked to my editor and then officials returned my phone and laptop.”
He further talks about how difficult it has been to carry on working after the abrogation of Article 370. He remembers, “I could not sleep for 2-3 days when it all happened. It took me one and a half months to come out of depression and get back to my work.” Due to the crackdown and communication blockade, it had become very difficult for journalists to work. With the internet shutdown and 4G services still blocked, journalists are dependent on a slow 2G network to send their stories.