The role of regional media cannot be undermined in disseminating news, views and information that are of importance to a particular area. However, a fine balance needs to be maintained when it comes to giving indepth coverage and ‘reckless reporting’ that threatens to breach the peace of an area, more so when that area happens to be a state like Jammu and Kashmir.
It may be recalled that the Government had banned three J&K-based newspapers in the first week of July 2010 for ‘inflammatory reporting’ and seized their copies. While this move was necessary to maintain peace in the troubled state, it has also opened many wounds and raised several questions – why was only local the media on the radar of J&K Government? Why was there a disparity of treatment between local, national and international media in the curfew-imposed Srinagar district?
“Journalists from Delhi were given all the facilities. They were giving reports from ground zero when the area was under curfew. Government and security forces should have treated all media (including regional) equally,” this comment of Zahoor Ahmed Shora, Editor of Daily Roshni, an Urdu newspaper in J&K, voices the angst of the regional newspaper players against the Government bodies. It’s not just a few local newspapers that feel discriminated against, press organisations in the Valley have also raised this issue time and again at their meetings.
At an emergency meeting, the executive members of the Kashmir Press Association expressed their ‘grave anguish’ over the ‘high-handedness’ of the security forces and roughing up of photo-journalists and others connected with the media. “The curfew passes issued by state authorities to us were torn up by the security forces. National media could travel wherever they wanted, however, the regional media was not allowed to do so,” alleged Gulam Hasan Kaloo, President, Kashmir Press Association.
Bashir Ahmed Bashir, President, Kashmir Press Guild, noted, “They (Government and security forces) don’t directly stop you, rather they create the circumstances. They wanted to curb the local media because the Government was under panic and didn’t want the truth to come out, as they knew that only the regional media could reveal the truth.”
Regarding the ban on the three newspapers for ‘inflammatory reporting’, Kaloo posed the question, “While the news was carried by so many publications, why were only the three newspapers banned?”
While asserting that newspapers should not misguide the readers, but pave the right path to improve the situation, Daily Roshni’s Shora said, “We try not to give much space to news that is being spread by the separatist elements. We either ignore such news or publish it after meticulous research.”
Meanwhile, the ban on the three newspapers had an adverse impact on their revenues. Rashid Makhbooni, Printer & Publisher of Urdu daily ‘Kashmir Uzma’ and English daily ‘Greater Kashmir’ – both of which had faced the ban – admitted, “We could not publish the newspapers for three days and our ad revenues were affected 100 per cent. Our national clients in sectors like education, automobile, and telecom have cancelled all their bookings since the last 15 days. Even Government ads have stopped coming. How can we survive in such a harrowing situation?”
The Government later apologised to the media and lifted the ban, but the local players are far from pacified. Kashmir Press Association’s Kaloo said, “A mere apology is not going to work, the officials need to be practical about it. Such a bad treatment has impacted the business of the newspapers in the state. Now, no commercial ads are flowing in at all in the regional newspapers.”
Bashir of Kashmir Press Guild added here, “However, the biggest issue was that we could not come up to the expectations of our readers when they needed us the most. We could not reach out to them when they wanted to read authentic reports.”
Giving the Government’s point of view, MA Kakroo, Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, clarified, “We are not imposing any kind of restrictions on the media, but making sure that they are working under the democratic system. We allow electronic, print and all concerned media to do their job freely. But yes, during curfew in Srinagar, we had allotted curfew passes to them for reporting as it was the need of the situation, but we did allow them to work.”
A sensitive situation requires sensible handling, and media needs to realise the important role that it plays in a state like Jammu and Kashmir, where even a seemingly innocuous comment or report can stoke fires that can tip the already troubled state over. On the other hand, the Government, too, needs to provide a fair playing field to all the media players – local, national or international – so that truth prevails and media can play a more constructive role.
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