Blaming The Messenger: Media Under Pressure in Jammu and Kashmir

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

society initiative.)




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,

virtually impossible.


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

lose momentum.


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

outside Srinagar.


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

limited retrenchments.


Communications Clampdown


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.


Television Constraints


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.


The Editors’

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

the state.



For more

information, contact the IFJ Asia-Pacific

office in Sydney

on + 61 2 9333 0919


The IFJ represents more than 600,000

journalists in 125 countries


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