In less than two years newspapers in Kashmir had to stop publications under a strict curfew. And two days later government’s move to give passes to accredited journalists was aimed at countering the criticism for a media gag while keeping the gag intact. Khursheed Wani reports.
Newspaper owners in Kashmir have decided to stop publication in protest against the official gag invoked on local media persons following the imposition of indefinite curfew in capital Srinagar. There will no papers on Sunday, the fourth day in a row.
The local journalists are sore over the introduction of what they call as embedded journalists who have arrived from New Delhi to cover the recent situation in Kashmir. They say that the local journalists irrespective of whether they work for local, national or international media outlets were banned to move around during the curfew and the permit cards issued to them were cancelled. On the other hand, the “imported journalists” were facilitated to roam around in the interiors of Srinagar city.
“Even the Army facilitated a flag march to provide impressive visuals for a particular TV channel to suit the deterrent theory of the home ministry,” a senior journalist said.
“Select journalists from New Delhi were provided all facilities by police and armed forces. Many of them were picked up from their hotels and ferried to the spots of their choice in armoured vehicles of Army as well as police transport. Television crews were even taken to the strictly curfew-bound downtown and facilitated interaction with the bereaved family of 18-year-old Tufail Matoo who was the first youth to have died in teargas shelling by Police on June 11,” another journalist wrote in a Jammu based daily.
The local journalists nurse no grudge against their counterparts coming from New Delhi or elsewhere and have a healthy tradition of facilitating them. However, the current scenario, in which embedded journalists landed in Srinagar created ripples. “It is intriguing that local journalists are virtually detained and imported selected few are allowed to report in a partisan way to give a deliberate direction to the situation in Kashmir,” said a senior reporter. “This is simply mischievous,” he said.
The journalists were unable to focus on the miseries and hardships faced by the people during continued curfew imposed in the capital city since July 6 following the death of four persons including a woman. At least, three deaths were directly blamed on paramilitary CRPF and the state police.
The Indian and international media organizations, including International Federation of Journalists and South Asian Free Media Association, working and pleading for the free press, condemned the government’s refusal of free flow of information. They also condemned the atrocious attacks on media persons. On July 6, at least twelve photojournalists were beaten up by the CRPF while covering the funeral procession of two teenagers.
This has apparently embarrassed the shaky coalition government, which is in trouble following widespread protests against the string of killings in the Valley since June. At least, 15 teenagers including a nine-year-boy have been killed by police and paramilitaries during anti-India protests.
On Friday, a courier of the State Information Department surfaced in holed up journalists’ offices in the Press Enclave at Residency Road to hand over curfew passes for “accredited journalists”. As compared to burgeoning population of journalists associated with local publications—more than 30 offset dailies and seven weeklies are published from Srinagar—the accredited journalists are quite a few. Most of the local papers have none or at the most three accredited journalists. “Accredited journalists alone cannot run the show. A newspaper requires everyone from office boy to machine-man and editor,” said Gulzar Ahmad, associated with Srinagar News.
This is second time in past two years when media in Kashmir faced terrible gag. During the culmination of agitation against the “economic blockade of Kashmir” triggered by Amaranth land row in August 2008, the newspapers were forced to stop publication for a week. The authorities had imposed curfew in Srinagar on August 24 to thwart separatists’ programme of a long-march towards Lal Chowk, the nerve center of Srinagar. The then governor administration imposed curfew for nine straight days to break the cycle of anti-India protests.
Reacting on the recent developments, five representative bodies of newspaper owners, editors, working journalists, photojournalists and video journalists denounced the government claim that restrictions on media have been lifted. They decided to suspend the publication of newspapers for Saturday in view of insufficient number of curfew passes issued and continued attacks on media.
President Kashmir Press Association Ghulam Hassan Kaloo, President Press Guild of Kashmir, Bashir Ahmad Bashir, President of Kashmir Journalists Corps Ishfaqul Hassan, President of Kashmir Press Photographers Association Farooq Javed and President of Kashmir Video Journalists Association S Tariq in a joint statement termed the government announcement as mere eye-wash to counter the condemnation from journalist bodies at national and International level.
A joint statement issued by the five organizations said that the members of these organizations had decided to hold a joint meeting but given the restrictions couldn’t do so. The members then had the deliberations on telephone and the issue of continued restrictions was discussed threadbare. Government’s discriminatory attitude towards Kashmir based media persons who were denied access to information and events but the journalists coming from Delhi were treated as special guests and all facilities were extended to them.
“Curfew passes were cancelled, media persons were beaten up and forced to remain in-doors and the government has the cheek to say that there were no restrictions,” the statement said, adding, “Even when the members of five organizations were discussing the situation, one senior journalist Riyaz Masroor was ruthlessly beaten up,” the statement said.
Though the government claimed that curfew passes were issued to editors of the newspapers and few accredited journalists, the statement said that it was only to deceive those national and international bodies which exhibited solidarity with hundreds of Kashmiri journalists who continue to be under siege.
“The staff members of newspapers are stuck in different curfew hit areas. How the curfew passes could be delivered to them so that they are able to report to their respective organisations. Similarly the working journalists are facing problems in moving to offices and other places to get information”, the statement said.
The organizations described government’s reported decision of issuing few curfew passes as a mere eye-wash bereft of seriousness. In this backdrop, the statement said that it was not humanly possible to publish and circulate the newspapers. “Therefore, there would be no newspaper on Saturday,” the statement said.
On Saturday when the curfew restrictions were eased for Mehraj Alam, the journalists met again, and decided to suspend the publication in protest, till the government promises to ease the curbs on journalists and newspapers.