Journalists in the Kashmir Valley have accused the state government of misleading the Supreme Court in its response to a writ petition filed in the top court by Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin.

Bhasin moved the top court in the middle of August, challenging the shutdown of communication services and curbs on media freedom that were imposed in the region after the state’s special constitutional status was revoked by the Centre on August 5. The government has partially restored communication services.

In its response, filed by Department of Information and Public Relations Commissioner Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, the government accused Bhasin of making “false assertions”. Dwivedi claimed that the government had taken several steps to “ensure smooth flow” of information, including setting up a media facilitation centre “which is providing facilities like telephone, internet connection, computer, printer etc, to all media persons from 8 am in the morning till 11 pm”. The media centre, which was set up on August 7, functions out of a private hotel in Srinagar.

Senior journalist Muzaffar Raina, who works for The Telegraph newspaper, said the state government’s claim “was a big lie for the [past] 72 days”. The media centre announced that it would remain open till midnight for the first time only on Tuesday, he added.

“Every evening around 9 pm, we were told to pack our bags,” Raina told “Sometimes, the centre remained open beyond that time for 15 minutes to 30 minutes on request.”

The notice about new media centre timings. (Photo credit: Safwat Zargar)

Kashmir Press Club Vice President Moazum Mohammad also disagreed with the government’s claim. “Media facilitation centre opens at 9 am and shuts down at 9 pm or 9.30 pm at the most. The hotel staff used to come at around 9 pm, asking journalists to finish their work. Sometimes, the hotel staff would switch off lights to remind journalists about the impending deadline.”

Mohammad pointed out that officials from the state information department officials deputed at the media centre were cooperative. “At times, we would request information department officials to let us stay for a while after 9 pm,” he added. “They were very cooperative.”

Nine computers for 300 journalists

Initially, the government installed four computers with an internet connection at the centre that was meant for around 300 journalists in the Valley. The number of computer terminals was increased to nine, including one for women reporters, on September 16 following demands from journalists.

“The information department officials had posted notices at the media centre that clearly stated the media facilitation centre was open till only 9 pm,” said Tariq Bhat, a correspondent with The Week magazine.

Reporter Peerzada Ashiq of the The Hindu newspaper said the journalists came to know about the media centre being open till 11 pm “only after the government filed its reply to the Supreme Court”.

Criticism from journalists

Journalists in the Valley have also pointed out other problems with the media centre.

On September 16, the Department of Information and Public Relations allowed only journalists with state government accreditation to enter the media centre. As a result, many outstation journalists reporting from the Valley were denied entry. It revoked the decision only after the intervention of senior journalists and the Kashmir Press Club.

For a long time, journalists in the Valley have asked the state government to shift the media centre from the private hotel to the department’s official building in Srinagar’s Polo View area.

“From day one, we have been asking the government to shift this media centre to its office in Polo View or set it up at Kashmir Press Club,” said a press club member who wished to remain anonymous. “They can then install a WiFi facility which can be used by journalists at one of these places. We do not understand why the government is adamant at operating this media centre from a private hotel. It becomes tedious to come so far every day.”

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