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Kashmir unrest: Media gag that wasn’t?

The honourable way out for the Mehbooba-led government is now to own up to its mistake and allow the newspapers to freely discharge their professional responsibility at a time when people in Kashmir need them the most.

Srinagar: A vie of deserted streets of Srinagar as authorities clamped curfew in all the 10 districts of Kashmir valley fearing large scale violence after Friday prayers on July 15, 2016. To prevent the spread of passion-stoking rumours and posts on social media by anti-social elements, authorities have suspended all internet and mobile phone connectivity in the Valley. (Photo: IANS)

Four days after the police in a midnight swoop seized the newspapers in Srinagar and prevented their distribution, the papers have resumed their publication in Kashmir from today. The decision to resume publication was taken at a meeting of the editors and the owners of various newspapers on Wednesday following their meeting with the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Around twenty police personnel had barged into the Corporate Office of the state’s largest newspaper Greater Kashmir, taken away the plates of the English daily Greater Kashmir and seized more than 50,000 copies of the Urdu edition Kashmir Uzma on Friday.

Police also arrested the Press foreman Biju Chaudary and two other employees, besides misbehaving with the employees present there.

The police similarly also raided the printing presses of Kashmir Reader, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Observer and the other English and Urdu dailies and stopped their distribution.

The state government had taken the unprecedented step to curb the publication of the local newspapers at a time when the overriding need of the hour was to report faithfully the prevailing troubled situation in Valley which has already resulted into the loss of around 50 lives and injuries to more than 3000. Around a hundred people stare at a partial or complete blindness. Police was sent to the printing presses to shut them down forcibly. The staff was intimidated, some of them arrested.

Ironically the state Government later feigned ignorance of the deed – albeit three days after the ban. The veteran PDP leader and the former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and the advisor to Chief Minister Amitabh Mattoo in their respective interviews to some television channels denied any knowledge of the gag.

While Beigh used a loaded word of “betrayal” of the CM by some police officers, Mattoo denied that CM was even aware of the ban, saying the decision to do so might have been taken at a local level, which meant an Senior Superintendent of Police from district Budgam district was responsible for it, as shortly after the incident he was transferred and attached.

This has hardly convinced the people. All it would have taken the state government to make amends was to reverse the ban on Saturday morning when no local newspapers hit the stands. But it was not done. It was only done only when the ban generated outcry at the national and international level.

The honourable way out for the Mehbooba-led government is now to own up to its mistake and allow the newspapers to freely discharge their professional responsibility at a time when people in Kashmir need them the most.

The media’s challenge is to articulate and report the prevailing situation to the people in Kashmir and to the world. Its job is to reflect the reality as it exists on the ground, unencumbered by the crass agendas and the TRP centred focus of a section of the media from New Delhi.

It is good that the state government belatedly recognized that it had grossly erred in going after the local media, denials notwithstanding. Media freedom is a globally identifiable norm of a free society and so triggered an immediate protest from the champions of the press freedom in India and the world, which put the government on the defensive.

One expects the government now to ensure that the necessary space and access to allow the local press to do its job.

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