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SRINAGAR

J&K Government has formally, for the first time, banned media in Kashmir. (KL file Image: Bilal Bahadur)
(KL file Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Journalists and news-photographers on Saturday had a symbolic sit-in against the continued ban on bandwidth availability to the Srinagar media corps. They later met a top official and also sent an SOS to the Press council of India (PCI) seeking immediate restoration of internet.

Authorities had sent communication to various Internet Service Providers (ISP) including BSNL directing them to withdraw all services on the eve of Eid-al-Azha. Since five days has passed, the service is yet to be resorted.

Journalists in an emergency meeting expressed serious concern over the continued denial of the service saying it has hindered their routine work.

While all the political parties and security agencies have ensured that they have internet connectivity, the service has also ensured that media as an institution remains disconnected. They said it was a deliberate move aimed at enforcing a gag by other means.

After the meeting was over, the journalists – editors, reporters, photographers and videographers, had a symbolic sit-in to press for the demand the restoration of internet, a facility that is so basic to societies world over. They later tried to meet Director Information but he was out of town.

Later, they drove to civil secretariat where they met Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, B B Vyas. The top officer said he will take up the issue in the meeting of the core group that has withdrawn the service.

Journalists as part of the decision in the meeting also sent a communication to the Press Council of India seeking intervention in restoration of the service. Here is the text of the SOS, a copy of which had already been handed over to the Vyas.

“As you are aware, the situation in Kashmir has been anything but normal for the past 70 days. Journalists working for local, national and international media have been facing immense difficulties in discharging their professional duties.

Despite enduring physical abuse while discharging professional duties, the journalists have upheld the highest traditions of reportage – with utmost integrity and honesty — to disseminate the information about the situation in Kashmir to the outside world. Notwithstanding the threat to life and pulls and pressures from various quarters, the media fraternity has been out in the field gathering information as part of their duties.

However, an unprecedented situation has emerged since September 12 as the State decided to snap all internet services after suspending the mobile telephony. This undeclared gag has left the journalists completely grounded. Never before has the media fraternity been confronted with such a grave situation wherein we are not even able to communicate with other parts of the state – Jammu and Ladakh.

For the past five days, the media fraternity has been virtually grappling in the dark. The visual journalists – both photojournalists and videographers – have been worst hit as they are unable to send picture or videos to their concerns.

The condition is so bad that some of us have been forced to dictate news reports on telephone and in some worse case scenarios send SMS’ which in this day and age mocks at technological advancement including Digital India.

The communication gag has caused mental strain among some of our colleagues. Ironically, the gag is mostly hitting the media fraternity while the state administration including the bureaucracy and political parties continue to enjoy uninterrupted internet facilities.

The situation has pushed the journalists to the edge as most scribes and photojournalists, who are working as stringers and freelancers, have been deprived of their right to livelihood.

Since the internet gag is happening very frequently in Kashmir, a permanent solution to it in respect of media fraternity is needed. The PCI may recommend measures to the State Government/Centre to ensure that any future internet gag does not affect the working of reporters/photojournalists/media outlets.

The internet gag is a serious infringement not only to freedom of expression but also the right to information.

In great distress as we are, we seek your intervention as the custodian of press rights in India, to ensure restoration of internet facility at the earliest. We are hopeful that your intervention will end the gag forced on the Fourth Estate in Jammu and Kashmir. The media fraternity in Kashmir is considering other options of protests but we are hopeful PCI’s intervention will ensure that the situation will not come to that pass.”

Signatories:

  • Ishfaq ul Hassan (President, Kashmir Journalist Corps)
  • Farooq Javed Khan (President Kashmir Press Photographers Association).
  • Yusuf Jameel (President, Kashmir Correspondents’ Club).
  • S Tariq (Kashmir Video Journalists’ Association)

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