The functioning of the media in Jammu and Kashmir is being “slowly choked” primarily because of the “extensive curbs” imposed by the local administration, a fact-finding report by the Press Council of India stated.
The report said that the Union Territory administration suspected that a large number of local Kashmir journalists were “sympathisers” towards the cause of militants and have “anti-national persuasion.”
According to the report, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, the administrative head of the Union Territory, has, therefore “opted for selective engagement with preferred journalists”.
On September 29, a fact-finding team was set up by Justice CK Prasad, the chairman of the Press Council of India, based on a complaint by Peoples Democratic Party President Mehboob Mufti.
Mufti had alleged that journalists in Kashmir were being intimidated by security forces and authorities for their work. In her complaint, she had raised issues of illegal summoning of journalists, house raids and booking of journalists under anti-terror laws.
A three-member team comprising Prakash Dubey, Group Editor of Dainik Bhaskar, Gurbir Singh, a journalist with The New Indian Express and Dr Suman Gupta, Editor, Jan Morcha – had then travelled to Kashmir in October and November to interact with Kashmiri journalists and government representatives.
Taking stock of the pressure faced by journalists and the struggling media industry in the Union Territory, the team in its report underlined that normal lines of communication between the administration and journalists have been “disrupted” in the region.
“Journalists function with a high level of stress, and are constantly facing pressure both from the government agencies, the police, and militants,” the report, which was submitted to the council for circulation on March 8, said. “That they [journalists] still manage to do their job in such a hostile environment, itself is commendable.”
The report also brought up drying advertising revenues of local newspapers, which is making the news business “hardly sustainable”.
“To add to their discomfiture, jobs in news media are not secure due to the declining viability of the business,” the report noted. “In this environment, both truth and good journalism are the biggest casualty.”
In the report, the team gave listed a set of “specific recommendations” to the Jammu and Kashmir administration to ensure free and thriving space for the functioning of media in Jammu and Kashmir.
In one of the key recommendations, the committee asked for the establishment of platforms in order to ensure dialogue between the government and journalists so that “mutual suspicion is slowly eased.” “The FFC [fact-finding committee] discussed with the ‘Editors Forum’ the setting up a 3-way Media Advisory Committee between the security establishment, government officers and journalist representatives to encourage dialogue and address grievances,” it said.
Besides, the committee also called for an end to the intimidation, arrests and detention of journalists under draconian laws in Kashmir. “A journalist’s job is to report the news as it happens, even if it is unpalatable to government officials. The tendency to see all critical reporting and opinions as ‘anti-national’ must stop,” the report added.
Several Kashmiri journalists such as Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul and Gowhar Geelani have been booked recently under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the Public Safety Act. Their arrests have been widely condemned, with several press bodies demanding their release and expressing concern about the crackdown on journalists in Kashmir.
The committee has also demanded the restoration of Kashmir Press Club, a representative body of journalists whose government-allotted property was taken back by the government in January following a controversial take over of the club’s management by a group of journalists seen close to the government.
“The FFC recommends that the registration of the Kashmir Press Club should be restored, and government officials should not interfere in the election process of what is essentially a private body of newspersons,” the report said.