Kashmir, Kashmir news,
Journalists held a sit in near historic clock tower in city centre Srinagar in January 2019. Photograph by Saide Zahoor for The Kashmir Walla

History has been witness to demise of newspapers and journalists when silence becomes a ritual and telling stories becomes a trade. Simultaneously, journalism often comes under pressure when it does its job, which is to strengthen and uplift the society, administration and the government by exposing its wrongs. 

This is the core principle of journalism. When the government of the time puts its feet on the media, its goal is only to choke the free press. That is exactly what the administration of Jammu and Kashmir has done by rolling out the “new media policy”–described as an “Orwellian tool” to curb the free media space, especially in Kashmir.

As per the policy, the government  is empowered to declare journalistic work as “fake news”, “foster a genuinely positive image of the Government”, and also “thwart mis-information, fake news, and be alert to any attempts to use media to incite communal passions, preach violence or to propagate any information prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”. The policy also adds that  journalists will be subject to background checks for accreditation and newspaper owners and its “key staff” for empanelment to receive government advertisements.

The policy has come just a few weeks after two Kashmiri journalists were booked under anti-terror laws for their social media posts and also when the media in general in Kashmir has remained quiet on the post-August 2019 situation. It seems the policy is only to bureaucratize Kashmir’s journalism by giving it the right to decide what is fake or truthful news, by deciding who is a journalist and who isn’t. This is only an official order to curb freedom of a press already struggling for survival. 

Journalism should be free from the meddling by bureaucrats. No media organization can freely function if the authorities will impose restrictions on content. This policy is criminalizing editorial policies of the media organizations. If journalism is criminalized there will be no hope for a better society it will only be a “positive image” of everything, and all the government departments will have a free hand to act as per their convenience. In any civilized region, such policies and actions have ended up killing the free thought. 

Kashmir is in the throes of a major transformation, an unchartered territory after the abrogation of special status. Freedom of press is more important than ever in Kashmir. Here truth has always been the first casualty in the ongoing decades-long conflict. Journalists have not only operated under testing situations, as threats and intimidation from those across the political spectrum continue, but have acted responsibly. The government needs to rethink the imposition of this draconian policy but the media community in Kashmir, too, has shown less interest in speaking out. The job of the media is to speak for people and when it remains silent about its own rights, people will have no faith in the institution of journalism. 

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