Politics may dominate street chatter in Jammu and Kashmir at election time but columnists in the Valley have been “asked” by newspaper editors to write “offbeat and apolitical” articles.
The surprising request follows a “gag order” by the state, threatening papers with withdrawal of advertisements on publication of objectionable material. “It has been observed that newspapers are publishing material that grossly violates the government’s advertisement policy,” said a letter from the information secretary to editors.
Newspapers were reportedly carrying ads from separatist groups, asking people to boycott the elections. The order threatened that any newspaper found violating the government advertisement policy would be de-listed from the list of newspapers approved for government ads.
Subsequently, editors asked columnists to avoid writing anything that can “complicate” things for newspapers. “We will prefer, these days, offbeat and apolitical subjects till the crisis is over,” was the terse message sent by editors to columnists.
The “gag order” has evoked criticism from various quarters. The coordination committee — an amalgam of separatists, traders, lawyers and members of civil society — described it as undemocratic. “We unanimously condemn the restrictions on the press and extend our solidarity with the journalist fraternity. This is a totally uncalled for and undemocratic move by the government,” said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.