The government in Jammu and Kashmir has approved the ‘Media Policy 2020’ for “creating a sustained narrative” on its functioning in media while also subtly hinting that tougher times lie ahead for journalists reporting Kashmir.
The official government handout announcing the features of the policy said it attempts to “thwart misinformation, fake news and tries to develop a mechanism that will raise alarm against any attempt to use media to vitiate public peace, sovereignty and integrity of the country.”
The paragraph appeared at the very end of the long statement, but for those who can read between the lines, it may be the only message that the statement intended to carry.
The same three words – ‘peace’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘integrity’ – also find mention in government orders choking internet in Kashmir, or PSA dossiers against civilians and pro-India politicians, who were sent to jails en masse right before Article 370 was abrogated and J&K divided and downgraded into two union territories.
For the sake of brevity and comparison, let’s call the trio of Peace, Sovereignty and Integrity, ‘PSI’ in the rest of this piece.
Precisely because the actual acronym PSI (pound force per square inch) does fit in perfectly with our new version of it.
Just like PSI in physics, in the J&K media policy too, the aim, it seems, is to create pressure on scribes to stop reporting what is supposed to be reported.
No, not arm-twisting but the neck twisting sort of pressure.
The sort that lands you in jail, makes you visit interrogation centres on a mere call, gets you physically assaulted, and makes your family ask you: “Why the hell did you choose journalism as a career?”
In that sense, this PSI in J&K Media Policy would be the knee on our necks that wouldn’t budge even if we scream ‘I can’t breathe’.
PSI, due to its abstract and one-size-fits-all feature, can be used to break professional resolves. It can be the perfect lever and fulcrum to move and mould things the way the authorities want.
My understanding of it may sound weird but PSI, much before it has made its way into J&K Media policy 2020, has done wonders for the government in Kashmir in the recent years.
Masrat Zahra, a photojournalist in Kashmir was booked for sharing her work on social media in April. Journalist Gowhar Geelani faced the same ordeal. This was before the new media policy.
But, in both cases, it was PSI at work.
In words of Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar, both of them had “posted explicitly seditious, incendiary and incriminating texts on social media, challenging sovereignty and integrity” of the Indian nation.
Add to this, the order after order after order the Principal Secretary of J&K’s Home Department comes up with every fortnight justifying the 10 months of the ongoing ban on high-speed internet in Kashmir.
In every one of them, the bottom-line reads: “it is absolutely necessary to do so (continue with high speed internet ban) in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and maintaining of public order…”
PSI at work here too.
‘Public order’ and ‘peace’ are birds of same feather flying together over barbed wires, olive green fatigues, and endless checkpoints in Kashmir.
Much before this 2020 Media Policy was approved, PSI was also at play when journalists were stuffed like cattle in a few rooms inside the building of J&K Department of Information & Public Relations, embarrassingly awaiting our turn to use the “media facilitation centre”.
Because our own offices, if they were allowed to have internet, would seemingly, have worked against the interests of PSI.
So how would the policy “raise alarm” if media “vitiates” this dreaded PSI? Sounding so much like the PSA now.
PSI being mentioned in government’s introductory statement to the media policy would be a double blow to scribes and photojournalists. It would mean that any on-the-ground report about, for instance, a gunfight where dozens of houses suddenly burn even through there is no collateral damage, to kill two militants, or a man is murdered because he stopped at a checkpoint two millimetres after the fine line, or simply questioning a government’s version, can invoke a formal note of PSI from the J&K Department of Information & Public Relations.
It could mean cancellation of accreditations, pressure on the scribe’s parent media house, or simply mentally harassing the journalist to the point where he or she starts to self-censor his or her work and toe the line once and for all.
The very mention of PSI among the aims of the policy means it is going to be used as hammer and tongs against journalists.
While local media houses are already working under tremendous pressure, using PSI as a stated tool in the policy, the government can now target individual journalists, who, despite all the pressures, have kept reporting from the ground while keeping ethical and professional requirements fulfilled.
The induction of PSI in official policy would also mean rechristening censorship in official records.
It may as well also mean that the Department of Information & Public Relations, which scans all newspapers and news reports, adds a fresh PSI column and mark the entries therein.
One of them may read: “Two reports this week from Mr Nisar Dharma of so and so publication vitiated PSI.”
Till the column runs out of space or I out of luck, I am writing what needs to be written.
Nisar Dharma is a freelance reporter based in Kashmir. He tweets @NisarDharma.
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