NEW DELHI: Kashmir’s new media policy may completely wipe out journalism from the region, in a move analysts and journalists themselves see as the Indian government’s attempt to control the narrative in the troubled region.
“It’s an attempt not only to gag and silence the media but also kill the media,” said Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of Jammu-based English newspaper Kashmir Times.
She called the new regulation “an attempt to criminalize journalists by scrutinizing the content in the media and deciding what news is fake and anti-national.”
Under Media Policy 2020, Directorate of Information and Publication Relations (DIPR) officials have the authority to “examine” media content and assess whether it is “fake,” “unethical” or anti-national.”
“Any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti-national activities or in plagiarism shall be de-empanelled besides being proceeded against under the law,” says the 53-page policy paper released by the Jammu and Kashmir government in the last week of June.
It also bans government advertising in media that is found to “incite or tend to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”
“The purported aim of such a policy is to eliminate any media house that refuses to toe the government line,” Jamwal told Arab News.
Her newspaper has been struggling ever since the government stopped giving advertisements to Kashmir Times after she filed a case in the Supreme Court. The case challenged New Delhi’s ban on 4G internet services in the region and restrictions on the media following the revocation of Kashmir’s special status in August last year.
On Aug. 5, India abrogated Article 370 of its constitution, which granted limited autonomy to the state. It also bifurcated the state into two federally administered units — the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The move was followed by a complete lockdown and communications blackout of the region. Many newspapers stopped their online operations, and some were forced to shut down.
The new media policy comes at a time when reporting in Kashmir is becoming increasingly difficult, with a number of journalists being booked under anti-terrorism laws in recent months.
“There is deep concern among journalists,” Kashmir Press Club President Shuja Ul Haq told Arab News. “If such a system of scrutinizing comes up, journalists feel they won’t be able to work. The environment won’t remain conducive to free reportage.”
“The media has been definitely working under a lot of stress in the valley,” Haq said. “There have been communication bans and issues related to the blockade of information. The view is that these steps will only add to the limitations, making the job of a journalist increasingly difficult.”
“The Indian government tried to control the media in the 1990s, when the armed conflict in the valley was at its peak,” senior journalist and political analyst Altaf Hussain told Arab News.
“Now, it is trying to control it again. It’s a fascist move. Earlier, they were killing journalists; now, they are trying to kill journalism itself because the Indian government does not want the world to know what the ground situation in the valley is,” he said.
According to Jamwal, the government wants to control the media because its own script is failing.
“You cannot script the destiny of the 13 million people of Kashmir without the involvement of a single local person and expect things to follow this script. It would fail. The only way you can show that everything is fine is by chaining and imprisoning the narrative coming out of the region,” she said.
Despite repeated attempts by Arab News to reach out for a comment, DIPR officials were not available to provide one.