Since large-scale civil unrest began in the Kashmir
valley – the largest of the three regions of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – in
June this year, the difficulties faced by journalists have rapidly escalated.
Along with an easing in overall levels of violence, overt threats faced by
journalists have probably declined since September 2010, but restraints on the
media’s daily functioning continue. Newspapers have been closed for an
estimated total of 30 days since protests intensified in Kashmir
in mid-June 2010, with local journalists confined to their homes and others
Government advertising is allocated quite
transparently to media that are complaint to the official diktat, while news
gathering in Kashmir is impeded by
restrictions on movement and disrupted communications. Text messaging (SMS)
through the state’s mobile telephone network was suspended in June, and
television news broadcasts have been heavily restricted. Internet
connectivity is frequently disrupted and those posting to social networking
sites are subject to scrutiny and in some cases arrest.
To combat these threats, journalists in Kashmir
have organised via their two main platforms – the Kashmir Press Guild and the Kashmir
Press Association. Important gestures of solidarity have come from collectives
in other parts of India, such as the Delhi
Union of Journalists (DUJ). The Editors’ Guild
of India and the Press Club of India have also joined in the effort to ensure
Kashmir’s journalists a better deal in a time of unabated turmoil.
Following is a situation report on journalism in
Kashmir based on a visit by IFJ South Asia
staff to the region in the last week of October, undertaken as part of a
fact-finding team involving other civil society organisations. This report will
be used in part or whole in the broader process coming out of this civil
Junctures of civil unrest in Kashmir invariably call
forth an official attitude of blaming the messenger, which results in various
forms of restraint on the region’s journalists, often stretching to active
measures of repression that are regarded by authorities as a perfectly
permissible stratagem for restoring order.
Since the upsurge in civil unrest in the Kashmir valley in June 2010, media practitioners claim
that their situation, in terms of daily work routines, has deteriorated
sharply. Accessing news sites has become an ordeal and gaining authentic
information on the disturbances that break out with alarming regularity,
There has been a lessening of the violence in Kashmir since a visit by an all-party parliamentary
delegation in September 2010. Journalists may be more assured now that they can
travel to work and back without serious hindrance. But they continue to suffer
enormous restraints on daily functioning.
Newspapers have been shut for about 30 days in total
since Kashmir’s protests began to intensify
from mid-June. The travails for journalists became particularly grim from about
July 7 when, after several years, the Indian army was summoned out of its
barracks and deployed on the streets of Kashmir, curfew restrictions were
extended to cover the movement of all civilians and an announcement made by the
state’s Home Department, that press passes would no longer be honoured.
Kashmir’s media personnel were confined to their homes for several
days following these actions. Photographers and news cameramen in Srinagar were assaulted
that day as they sought to record the army deployment and other major events.
Some had their professional equipment confiscated by security agencies.
These incidents followed similar occurrences a day
earlier, when at least 12 photographers working for local, national and
international media organisations were assaulted in Srinagar and suffered injuries of various
degrees of seriousness. As the camera operators were attacked, senior police
were heard remarking that without media attention the demonstrations would soon
On July 2, authorities in the region of Jammu sealed the premises of three
publications on the grounds that they had allegedly carried false and
misleading news reports that tended to aggravate tensions between religious
communities. The following day, copies of Greater Kashmir and Kashmir
Uzma, the leading newspapers in English and Urdu in the Kashmir
valley, were seized as they were being readied for distribution.
A few days into these closures, the Kashmir Press Guild,
a platform of the most senior journalists in the region, issued a statement
deprecating the situation in which local journalists were confined to their
homes by an unrelenting curfew, while media personnel flying in from Delhi were afforded armed
protection and given considerable freedom of movement.
In the perception of the Guild, it was as if the story of
Kashmir, if it were to be told at all, could
only be entrusted to the narrative skills of journalists enjoying the stamp of
approval that comes from working in the national capital.
On July 9, when curfew and closures were at their most
oppressive in the Kashmir valley, the state
government seemed to relent marginally after virtually locking all journalists
in for days. Journalists in Srinagar
were given a telephonic assurance that they would be provided fresh curfew
passes to replace the ones invalidated after the army deployment of July 7. As
senior journalist Riyaz Masroor set
off from his home in the Alucha Bagh neighbourhood of Srinagar, to collect the fresh issue of his
curfew pass, he was stopped at a police checkpoint on the main thoroughfare
near his home. Personnel of the local police reportedly did not ask him why he
was stepping out during the curfew, nor did they wait for an explanation. Few
seemed to care that he was responding to a summons from the state government’s
Information Department. He was attacked with batons and forced to return home,
with serious injuries to his hip and right wrist.
On August 14 and again on September 28, a senior
journalist now working with India’s largest news agency, the Press Trust of
India, was stopped as he was going to work and his curfew pass confiscated by
security forces. No reasons were given and it was made clear to him that he was
not entitled to ask for any.
On October 1, Merajuddin and Umar Meraj of the Associated
Press TV news service, and Mufti Islah and Shakeel-ur Rahman of the Indian news
channel CNN-IBN, were assaulted by security forces while on their way to the
state legislative assembly in Srinagar.
The incident began with a heated argument over the police insistence that they
would not allow the journalists to proceed, despite the curfew passes they carried.
Merajuddin, whose documentation remains one of the richest visual records of Kashmir’s years of insurgency, suffered a serious injury
to his neck in the incident and spent days recovering in hospital.
Through 15 days in September, few newspapers were printed in Srinagar because
journalists and print workers could not reach their places of work. Those who
made the effort and succeeded on any one day often found themselves condemned
to remain confined within their places of work indefinitely. Among the few
newspapers that were published, most found distribution channels blocked, as
delivery vehicles were detained at the Mirgund and Kotibagh checkpoints just
On September 30, all copies of Greater Kashmir, Rising
Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma and Buland Kashmir were seized from
their points of production in Srinagar
city and taken to local police stations. The following day, the chief minister
of Jammu and Kashmir,
Omar Abdullah, informed the state assembly that he had not issued any order for
the seizure of the newspapers, though the police were empowered to examine
media content prior to publication.
Advertising Allocations Questioned
Journalists in Srinagar
hesitate to use the term “discrimination”, but they have reason to believe that
an increasing degree of arbitrariness has crept into the allocation of
government advertising budgets among newspapers. The evidence available today,
of selective allocations to newspapers that are seen to be amenable and severe
cutbacks to those that are seen to be too independent, comes on the heels of
longstanding grievances that government advertising budgets overwhelmingly
favour newspapers in Jammu rather than Srinagar. Illustratively,
the annual report of the central government’s Directorate of Advertising and
Visual Publicity (DAVP), the nodal agency for the placement of official
advertising, records a spending of INR 34,426,365 in the print media in Jammu city in 2008-09 and
INR 10,017,660. (In US dollar terms, these figures would work out at current exchange
rates, to just over USD 750,000 and just over USD 220,000 respectively).
A cross-section of journalists with whom the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) met in
Srinagar were convinced that even this relatively meagre allocation for the
print media in their city is now distributed with intent to ensure compliance
with the official diktat. Journalists from three leading newspapers
published from Srinagar
– Rising Kashmir, Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Uzma –
believe that they have been unfairly deprived of advertising. As a result, they
have had to enforce stringent curbs on staff salaries and in some cases, even
News gathering processes in Kashmir
have been severely impeded by restrictions on movement and the disruption of
communications. The text messaging (SMS) service through the state’s mobile
telephone network was suspended in June 2010. This final clampdown on a service
that Kashmir’s journalists had begun to use as
a vital news gathering facility came after a long prelude.
In June 2009, when the valley witnessed large-scale civil
disturbances over the suspected rape and murder of two women in the southern
orchard town of Shopian,
bulk text messages were banned. Media organisations in the capital city of Srinagar had used text
messages to tap into more remote districts where they had no presence on the
ground. Banning this tool put out of work media workers in these districts, who
had used the service to generate a modest, but not insignificant, revenue for
themselves by providing news items and updates to Srinagar’s newspapers.
In April 2010, well before the Kashmir protests reached
their most violent pitch, India’s
central government ordered telecom companies in Jammu and Kashmir to suspend text messaging
for all subscribers of post-paid cellular telephone services. Subscribers using
the pre-paid facility were to be allowed to send no more than 10 messages a
day. This measure ostensibly was taken in response to a request from state security
and intelligence agencies in Kashmir.
This rationale for banning a basic facility was soon
enough rejected by the state government, establishing quite firmly that there
had been a serious miscommunication on the matter. Far from calling for a ban on
all text messaging services, the state government, it emerged, had only
requested that bulk messages be proscribed, since these had been identified by
security agencies as a source of destabilising and disruptive rumour. This was
merely the reiteration of a ban that had been decreed during the Shopian
disturbances, though over time, it had reportedly begun to be breached in some
However, with protests registering a sharp upward spiral,
the state government ordered a complete ban on text messaging services through
the cellular telephone network in June 2010. This prohibition remains in place
at the time of writing. Voice telephone services are subject to frequent and
unexplained disruption, particularly in the northern Kashmir
These communication bans remain a serious impediment to
legitimate news gathering activities in the Kashmir
valley, especially since impositions of curfew and other forms of restrictions
on physical movement have become common.These
restrictions are often introduced in response to imagined security anxieties.
Illustratively, on August 15, when India’s
independence day observances were being held in Srinagar’s Bakshi stadium under a heavy
security cordon, mobile telephone and internet services were suspended over the
entire valley for at least six hours. Already constrained by closures and
restrictions on movement of staff, Kashmir’s
news organisations were also unable to update their websites.
Kashmir’s numerous TV channels used to be a major source of
local news, which had an especially vital role in days when civic security was
badly disrupted and few could feel sure of what lay in store if they ventured
outside their homes. This service effectively ceased in June 2009, in the wake
of the Shopian disturbances, when the Directorate of Information in the state
government ordered all local channels to suspend news broadcasts. This diktat was partly diluted a month later, when the channels were allowed to air the
15 minutes of news permitted under their rules of registration. All channels
were directed to confine their news broadcasts to 15 minutes at the same time
of day, 8pm.
As the editors
and owners of the channels put it, they were summoned early in June 2009 and
given a virtual ultimatum by the authorities that they needed to “behave
properly”. Several were told that their fiduciary relationship with
secessionist political formations was well known, and that dossiers at state
intelligence agencies provided ample grounds for their prosecution under the
special security laws in force in Kashmir.
September 13, 2010 was the worst single day of bloodshed
in Kashmir since the current protests began,
with 20 killed and an estimated 200 injured. Protests that day acquired a new
fury after the Iranian news channel Press TV telecast news of the alleged
burning of the Quran Sharief in Gainesville, Florida, in the United States. The report was
swiftly denied but anger had already erupted on the streets of Kashmir.
Immediately afterwards, the state administration decreed
that Press TV would be taken off the menu of all local cable operators.
Concurrently, in what seemed a panic reaction, local channels were told to
suspend all news broadcasts until further notice. This has resulted in a
situation that has been described with great aptness by one of the news channel
representatives who met with this IFJ representative: “None of the local
channels cover any news and the national channels do not cover Kashmir.”
Watch on Social Media
Despite frequent disruptions, the internet has become,
ever since the current phase of troubles began, the principal mode for getting
the word out in Kashmir. Transmission
bandwidths are small and only allow for limited volumes of data transaction.
But essential information gets around, such as the protest calendars and
schedules periodically announced by the leadership of Kashmir’s
Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (Movement for Freedom).
Social networking sites have become a means through which
journalists and other citizens in Kashmir
conduct the conversations that are denied them by heavy-handed restrictions.
Unsurprisingly, users of the social networking site Facebook have begun to
attract the hostile attention of the security agencies. One user, Faizan Samad,
was arrested in August for allegedly posting material that brought the armed
forces to disrepute. He was released shortly afterwards. Another Facebook user,
Mufti Wajid Yaqoob, was arrested in the south Kashmir town of Shopian after being held responsible for
organising protest demonstrations through his network of friends on the site.
National Solidarity Needed
in Kashmir have organised on their two main
platforms of the Kashmir Press Guild and the Kashmir Press Association to deal
with the multiple threats they face. Following complaints filed by three
newspapers from Srinagar and the efforts of
Kashmiri journalists working in Delhi,
the Press Council of India (PCI) issued notice on August 4 asking the state
government to explain the many formal and information restrictions imposed on
the functioning of the press.
bodies based in Delhi have also stepped in with
gestures of solidarity and support for the besieged press corps in Kashmir. The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has been
particularly vocal, with a statement by its executive committee in September,
sharply condemning the “undeclared ban on newspapers in Kashmir”
and calling on the PCI to conduct its own independent inquiries to restore a
semblance of normalcy for journalistic functioning in the valley.
Guild of India and Press Club of India have also at various times organised to
show their solidarity with colleagues in Kashmir.
It has often been the case that journalists in the
national capital and the main metropolitan centres of India remain
relatively indifferent to the travails of colleagues in outlying parts of the
country. Even if Kashmir has not suffered from this form of indifference in its
most acute form, the enemy of press freedom here is the brevity of public
memory and short attention spans in the rest of India to the incessant turmoil in
information, contact the IFJ Asia-Pacific
office in Sydney
on + 61 2 9333 0919
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