J&K’s new media policy draws sharp criticism from Kashmir journalists
Earlier this month, the J&K administration approved the new Media Policy-2020 stating that it was meant for effective communication and public outreach.Updated: Jun 15, 2020, 19:59 IST
Jammu and Kashmir’s new media policy has evoked sharp criticism from journalists in the valley, politicians and the civil society.
Many have called it an attempt to kill the independence of journalists and media outlets operating the region, especially Kashmir.
Earlier this month, the J&K administration approved the new Media Policy-2020 stating that it was meant for effective communication and public outreach.
The administration also stated that the policy attempts to “thwart misinformation, fake news and tries to develop a mechanism that will raise alarm against any attempt to use the media to vitiate public peace, sovereignty and integrity of the country”.
The policy allows the directorate of information and public relations (DIPR) to “examine the content of the media for any fake news, plagiarism and unethical and anti-national activities” and any individual or group indulging in such things “shall be de-empanelled besides being proceeded against under the law, the administration said.
Veteran journalist and former north India correspondent of BBC, Altaf Hussain said it is an attempt to browbeat the media so that they are not able to report facts.
“This is to kill the independence of media. There have been such attempts in the past as well. In these past 30 years, there would be so many occasions where we would annoy either the government or the militants and many of our colleagues lost their lives for it. We have resisted such pressures and guarded our own freedom. Now, it’s the time to show the same resolve to uphold truth,” Hussain, who has also edited a vernacular newspaper, said.
“We don’t have to come out on the streets, but simply have to report honestly. These are challenging times for they want us to go the way of lapdog media,” he said.
While most newspaper owners refused to comment or write on the new media policy fearing reprisals from the government, some termed it as a coercive measure to silence the media voices.
Asem Mohiudin, founder and editor of weekly The Legitimate, said J&K’s media industry is under tremendous constraints and instead of bailing it out, more coercive laws are being enforced.
“Since 2006, it is the third time that the UT has changed its media policy. Ironically, all the times no responsible media entrepreneur or journalist is consulted for the framing of the policy. But later on the policy is never fully implemented hence it violates its own rules and laws… Now it has come up with another modified version. That only violates the ethics of professional journalism.”
Haroon Rashid, editor of a prominent Urdu daily published from Srinagar, said from the past three decades, journalists working in Kashmir have been facing suffocation. “This policy is not only dangerous but also one-sided, and nobody from the local media was taken into confidence during its framing.”
Kashmir Press Club general secretary Ishfaq Tantray said the club members had an online meeting and a need was felt that all media organisations should come together for a joint mechanism to deal with the issue. “I see this media policy is a serious threat to press freedom in J&K and everybody needs to come forward and devise a joint response.”
Safwat Zarger, who writes for Scroll, said nobody is against the idea of coming down on fake news or other unethical journalistic conduct, but this policy effectively leaves the judgment in the hands of bureaucrats, which is dangerous. “Such a policy is detrimental to the freedom of speech and expression and has no place in democratic framework.”
Former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah was also critical of the policy. “The only version the authorities want heard is their own. The truth will be the biggest casualty of this Orwellian order,” Abdullah said while tweeting an editorial of a national daily against the new policy.
PDP spokesperson Suhail Bukhari, who is also a former journalist, said the new policy introduced by J&K government is an assault on the freedom of press and demanded its roll back. “By bringing the new media policy, the administration has begun yet another element of its agenda it embarked on August 5 by disempowering the people of J&K.”
A Congress spokesperson also criticised it saying, “Nobody is happy with new media policy.”
Communist Party of India CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said the new policy has spread unease amongst journalists working in the region. “Those who framed this policy have given a clear picture that they don’t want journalists answerable to their readers and editors, but to bureaucrats and security officials.”
However the BJP has welcomed the policy. “Journalists also should be made accountable. Many people write only negative things about the government and never highlight the positive developments, so that was necessary,” said BJP state spokesperson Altaf Thakur.
Calls to commissioner secretary information Rohit Kansal and information director Sehrish Asgar did not yield any response.