Kashmir Assembly Has Media Parking Area Too!

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SRINAGAR: Newsmen on Tuesday had to turn teachers to tell the ruling coalition politicians that media coverage of the assembly sessions does not weaken the democracy they preach. It strengthens instead, they insisted.

Members of Srinagar press corpse posing for a picture outside Kashmir assembly after restrictyive entry for GST session coverage led to walkout. KL Image: Special arrangement

This became inevitable after the government implemented the severest and the scariest restrictions on the movement of the Srinagar press corps for covering the special session on GST. It took almost two hours to manage the crisis that government was so keen to downgrade to “a communication gap”.

On the eve of the session, it was almost clear that the government did not want any coverage to the debate, especially by Delhi’s electronic media, part of which packages comment and abuse as prime time news. But when it came to the implementation on Tuesday morning, it was a pathetic gag that left almost every reporter out of the house. Coupled with arrests in trade, some opposition lawmakers saw an element of emergency in it.

The information department issued a brief circular at 9:24 am on Tuesday: “As has been conveyed to the Information Department by the authorities concerned, no Journalist will be allowed to carry Video/Still camera or Mobile Phone inside the Press Gallery of the State Legislature for the coverage of the special session recommencing here today on 4th July 2017.”

The formal information came at a time when the media was almost out and outside the secretariat-assembly complex. As reporters wanted to get in with the passes issued by the Speaker, the cops would permit them and then, interrupt, saying “it was a mistake” and eventually getting them humiliatingly back from the queues of the secretariat employees, who were also reporting to their duties.

A Kashmir Life editor filing the copy outside the assembly in a deserted corner. KL Image: Mohammad Rafi

It was only after the intervention of the information department officials that six or seven reporters managed reaching the press gallery of the assembly. Interestingly, however, only two of them – the first two, were permitted with computers and all others had to deposit the same with the information office within the assembly. There was complete chaos. After scanning their bags using mobile x-ray, the cops checked, and frisked them thrice and recorded their identities at the inner gate. When journalists said they have been asked against mobile and camera, what is the problem with computers, cops said: Kagaz, pen lalou. Some reporters were willing to keep their phones off but were not permitted momentary possession.

Within minutes the lawmakers were up protesting. But when the reporters inside the gallery got information that more than 50 reporters have been stopped at the main gate. They decided within seconds that covering a session with such humiliating regulation was lowering the institution of media. Seeing a subversion of an institution in the decision-making, they decided to walk out. Within a few minutes later, the assembly session was adjourned.

Almost half an hour later, the government started approaching the media. It was initially the law secretary, then the assembly secretary and many others. When it did not help, the political executive took over.

Speaker Kavinder Gupta and Parliamentary affairs minister Abdul Rehman Veeri talking to reporters to end the impasse. KL Image: Special arrangement

By then at 10:43 am, the Information department circulated another brief order: “It has now been decided by the concerned authorities that the Journalists can carry Video/Still Cameras and Mobile Phones inside the Press Gallery of the Legislature for the coverage of the special session which recommenced here today on 4th July 2017.”

But there were no takers. Reporters were unwilling to return to the press gallery as it was completely humiliating.

The first politician who appeared on the scene was Parliamentary Affairs Minister Abdul RehmanVeeri. “You need people in press gallery, why do not you take a battalion from armed police?” one journalist suggested him. “The humiliating and restricted regulation of the media to the house also means that you do neither believe in democracy nor in the constitution because media is essential in both.”

The Information Minister ZulfikarChoudhary followed and regretted. Thanking the minister for his concern, the media said that the House being the property of the Speaker, whose permission passes were dishonoured by the cops, so the issue rests with him. One reporter was so humiliated by the cops at the main gate that he tore away the pass, threw it away and left.

Choudhary tried to tell the media that the government will order an enquiry into the “communication gap” but media asserted that it did not require one because everybody knows at whose behest the information was working.

It was at around 12 noon that the situation within the House compelled Speaker Kavinder Gupta to come out, regret the abuse of media and make public assurance that media will not face any problems. “I have gone to jail for 13 months for the freedom of the press,” Gupta told the reporters.

“Send us too,” somebody quipped, “for the freedom of the press”. He laughed, squeezed it to a smile and asked reporters to resume the routine. They obliged.

Almost 15 minutes later, the press gallery was full. Media was working; reports were out, on-line, and live. Return of the media to the gallery gave “that upbeat feeling” to the opposition and things were normal. There was no heavens fall.

But the question remains: why was government so keen to strip the media and permit them in? Why are successive governments’ so keen to preach the democracy minus media? How the floor managers and the custodians of the House start making believe their democracy can survive on three pillars, incidentally all by debit to the Consolidated Fund? Any answers.

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