SRINAGAR: Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) suggested a visiting sub-committee of the Press Council of India (PCI) to reinvest in its efforts seriously so that its credibility in J&K is restored. One way of salvaging the credibility would be to revisit its 1991 report “Crisis and Credibility” that was a bid to undermine and subvert the institution of media in Kashmir.
The report was a sort of joint venture between the PCI and the Government of India to paint the Kashmir media corps black and sail through the wider global condemnations in wake of the mass rapes in Kunan.
“An institution mandated by law to protect and oversee the conduct of media permitted itself to be used and abused by the state apparatus to subvert an institution in Kashmir’s most challenging phase of history,” KEG delegation told the PCI members, currently on a week-long assessment study of the state. “Though it did not impact the conduct of media in Kashmir, it did, however, impact the institutional neutrality of the PCI which must be revisited to salvage the credibility in the larger interests of the role of media in a democracy.”
Agreeing that there are quite a few professionals from Kashmir petitioning the PCI on issues confronting them on day to day basis, KEG said it has roots in PCI’s decades-long inertia on Kashmir front. “In last more than 25 years, Kashmir media corps lost as many as 13 professionals who were killed brutally,” the delegation said. “In how many cases, the PCI intervened even to the extent of seeking fair investigations?”
KEG suggested the PCI that it could still intervene and get these cases investigated by police. Though the cases are registered but there has not been any follow up. “If you could help us unveil the killers in these murders, we undertake the responsibility of managing pardon and impunity from justice to all the accused,” KEG suggested. “Helping Kashmir media corps on this front will hugely contribute in regaining lost ground for the PCI in Kashmir.”
Appreciating the PCI role in taking suo moto action in a recent case of attack on media by a police officer, near Hyderpora, KEG said the notices were issued to the state government as well. But there has not been any follow up. “If PCI intervention does not help Kashmir media in even transferring a DySP rank officer which is no punishment, how can the media body help it get justice to a photo journalist who has lost his eyes to pellets in 2016?” the KEG observed.
Given the massive deployment of army, paramilitary and the police forces in the state, mostly Kashmir, KEG said, it would essentially mean lot of conflict between the media and the security grid. This should encourage PCI to be slightly more sensitive towards the region prospectively. Editors said the friction is quite frequent and it does lead to various tensions.
“But the lack of cushion by way of institutional inertia in Delhi and Srinagar has not prevented media corps in Srinagar from being objective record keepers of a society that has lost one generation to the conflict so far,” editors said. “In a way, handling a conflict at home has helped create a huge battery of journalists who are now reporting the conflict spots of the world because reporting home conflict honestly and objectively has been recognized by world’s best media organisations.”
In response to a pointed question by the PCI committee referring to the Interlocutors Report seeking answers to the funding of media operations in Kashmir, KEG said this has remained system’s oldest bogey to frustrate the narrative. “KEG is open to any kind of investigations to settle this riddle once for all,” the editors.
It was in response to this issue that the editors explained the modus operandi of the governments in distribution of the advertisements, insisting that it is public money and should have a fair rationale for operations.
DAVP, the sole arm of the central government, editors said, has black-listed major publications in Kashmir. “While they have absolute discretion about whom and how will they accommodate in J&K, DAVP can not black list the major publications,” editors said. “How fair is it that when the governments in Srinagar and Delhi need to communicate with the people of the state, they use the same medium but when it comes to their rights, they are being denied without any reason?”
Editors said that the government in Delhi is not only blocking DAVP but is using its influence to prevent the private advertisements to the media in Kashmir. “J&K is a consumer market that makes yearly purchase of more than Rs 50,000 crore from the markets in the plains of India. Had the manufactures not an unwritten order from the government; it would mean an availability of almost Rs 400 crore of advertisement money to various mass media in the state. But where is that money?” Editors asked. “The story is that they want the state to consume but deny it the rights that routinely come with consumption and it is aimed at hitting the society’s major institution that is also crucial to the survival of democracy in the state.”
Editors insisted that the recurrent debates about funding to media have resurfaced because tactics of the system in choking Kashmir media have failed. “We have survived these onslaughts as great professionals and we will survive any such bid in future too and key to it is ensuring the journalism survives as a professional service guaranteed by constitution and not as propaganda as is clear on TV 24 x 7 these days,” the editors said. Editors asked PCI to point out one instance in last 27 years of conflict and turmoil in which basics of the journalism were compromised. They said that media in Kashmir is not an inebriated model of mass media, as it exists in other parts of the state, and no murder accused is an editor. They insisted that reportage from Kashmir is delicate and sensitive because, unlike other parts of India where development and politics dominates, it primarily involves life.
Admitting that the media in Srinagar does have various issues with the state government but KEG believes these could be settled amicably. It suggested empowering the Information Department to the extent that cops would not have the additional load of writing charge sheets against the media. KEG said it is supportive of reforms as long as it is not politically motivated.
Editors asked PCI to ensure that no newspaper is trampled in the name of reforms in the state as publishing a newspaper is a fundamental right.
KEG said frequent closure of the internet has reaffirmed the fact that government wants to retain Kashmir as a greenhouse territory where it should have every right to maintain humidity and temperature of the democracy. It also wanted an end to the frequent blockades in physical movement and virtual access.