A group of journalists on Saturday expressed concern at the Press Council of India’s plan to intervene in a plea seeking an end to the restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir. The journalists said it appeared that the council was abrogating its constitutional responsibility towards standing for press freedom.

The plea that the council has sought to intervene in was filed by Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin in the Supreme Court. In its request to the court, the council supported the restrictions on media in the state and said it was “in the interest of the integrity and sovereignty of the nation”. It said it would assist the court in the plea “justly in the interest of the freedom of the press as well as in the national interest”.

The journalists who condemned the move said the council’s petition “does not unequivocally stand to protect press freedom”. They said: “Instead, it conflates the issues raised by [Bhasin’s] petition on the ‘rights of the media/journalists for free and fair reporting on the one hand and national interest of integrity and sovereignty on the other’ and seeks to assist the Court on the issue of the ‘freedom of the Press as well as in the national interest’.”

They said the way the council’s intervention plea was worded was “deplorable, completely indefensible and strikes a severe blow against the struggle of journalists” from Kashmir in recent days.

The group said that since August 5, the entire Kashmir region has been “under the most extraordinary clampdown of communication, newspapers have not been printed or distributed freely and journalists have not been able to gather news, much less disseminate it”. Journalists’ movement has been hampered and their mobility severely restricted, they said.

The signatories said that though the government claimed that the situation in Kashmir was peaceful and calm, independent media outlets had found evidence of protests by citizens. However, because of the ban on the communications, the dissemination of such news is threatened, they said.

The journalists said that the Press Council of India had the duty to “step forward and fulfil its duty to media freedom”. They noted that the council was a statutory body set up to preserve press freedom and that its petition was in contrast to its own report from October 2017 about internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time, the council had said, “Journalists, too, are doing public service during any coverage and, therefore, their accreditation or Press Cards should be duly honoured during curfew or restrictions.”

“By this intervention in the petition filed by Ms Bhasin, it appears that the Press Council of India is abrogating its Constitutional responsibility towards standing firmly and fearlessly for the freedom of the press and the right of the media to ‘act as the voice of the voiceless’,” the signatories said. “We urge the Press Council of India to immediately intervene in favour of the petition filed by Ms Bhasin to rescind the ban on communication forthwith. Anything short of this will be a travesty to media freedom.”

The Kashmir Times editor, in her petition, had stated that the restrictions were curbing the rights of journalists under the provisions of Articles 14 [equality before the law] and 19 [freedom of speech and expression] of the Constitution of India. She said the shutdown has fuelled anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of the Kashmir.

Earlier this month, the Editors Guild of India and the Indian Women’s Press Corps expressed concern over the communication blackout in Kashmir.

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