On Friday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the international advocacy group on information freedom, called for the immediate withdrawal of the “New Media Policy” in Jammu and Kashmir. Calling it an “Orwellian regulation”, Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said, “The [J-K] administration becomes plaintiff against the free press, judge and executioner all in one.”
The fifty-three pages policy prepared by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) headed by Dr. Sehrish Asgar and approved for implementation by principal secretary Rohit Kansal, both bureaucrats of the Indian Administrative Service, not only lays down the contours of what journalism is but also prosecution of journalists under the Indian Penal Code and cyber laws for what the administration would deem as “fake news”, reported Rayan Naqash at The Kashmir Walla.
However, it is evident from a cursory reading that the policy is in writing, the regressive actions against the press taken by the administration after the unilateral abrogation of J-K’s limited autonomy and statehood on 5 August 2019, wrote Mr. Naqash.
Under the new media policy, the RSF said, “New Delhi-controlled government of India’s northernmost territory, Jammu-and-Kashmir, assumes the right to harass journalists and media judicially and economically if they publish content it doesn’t like. It amounts to prior censorship.”
Mr. Bastard further stated that since there is no definition of what constitutes fake news or anti-national content in the new media policy, “the government has absolutely infinite interpretative leeway to censor any journalism it does not like and to impose its own narrative”.
Calling on to withdraw the policy, the RSF said that the policy is unworthy of India’s democracy and will have the immediate effect of inducing profound self-censorship that in practice amounts to prior censorship.
In RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, India ranked 142nd out of 180 countries–a two-place dip from 2019. “The fall is due in part to the crackdown on press freedom in Kashmir since last summer,” the RSF wrote.