Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) on Monday said that the observation of the fact-finding committee of the Press Council of India (PCI) gives credence to NC’s standpoint as the party has been registering their concern over the last few years.
“Press council of India’s findings on Press Freedom in Kashmir a telling indictment on J&K administration, @tanvirsadiq says Fact-Finding Committee’s observation gives credence to NC’s standpoint as we’ve been registering our concern over the last few years,” JKNC tweeted.
Earlier, a fact-finding committee (FFC) of the Press Council of India (PCI) found that the “news media in Kashmir is slowly being choked mainly because of the extensive curbs imposed by the local administration”.
In its latest report, the committee said, “There is also the threat of violence by the militants which acts as a deterrent”.
The FFC was set up in September 2021 by then PCI chairman Justice (retd) C K Prasad to look at the state of the media in Jammu and Kashmir after PDP president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote to the Council.
“There is a long list of journalists who have been individually harassed. The object is to create fear and intimidation to fall in with the government line,” the Indian Express reported quoting the FFC report.
According to the report, “normal lines of communication between the local administration and journalists has been disrupted” because of the administration’s “suspicion that a large number of local journalists are sympathizers of the militants’ cause”.
Lt Governor Manoj Sinha had “frankly told the FFC that many journalists were of ‘anti-national’ persuasion”, the report says.
“He (Sinha) conceded that when he was first appointed, he used to encourage open press conferences, but now had gone back to a ‘selective engagement’ with preferred journalists.”
The three-member committee, comprising Prakash Dubey, Suman Gupta, and Gurbir Singh, recorded “numerous cases of journalists being subject to interrogation, threatened and made to fill irrelevant profiling documents”.
Some journalists had been “summoned to the dreaded ‘Cargo Centre’ for questioning — a location reserved for interrogation for armed militants”, the report said.
Many journalists spoke about “the constant harassment they faced in the line of duty from security forces. These ranged from accusations of aiding the ‘separatists’ to lengthy interrogation in police camps, to detention and arrests for circulating ‘fake news’”, it said.
The police had “conceded to the FFC that as many as 49 journalists have been arrested and charged since 2016, not a small number considering that JK has a very small press corps.
“Of these 8 have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which makes bail almost impossible. The police case is many journalists indulge in ‘anti-national’ activities.”
The committee recommended that “those indulging in any criminal acts, are not journalists pursuing their profession”, and if a journalist “is bearing arms or carrying grenades and other ammunition, he is not a journalist; he is a militant, and should be treated as such”.
However, the establishment of the forces “cannot label writing against government policies, or quoting a family or civilian sources in a story about excesses of the armed forces, or tweeting a point of view as ‘fake news’ or ‘anti-national activity’ and then arresting the journalist for sedition”, the FFC said.
It is “not the business of journalists to support government policies or development work. A journalist’s job is to report the news as it happens, even if it is unpalatable to government officials”, the report underlines.
“A conflict zone has many players and many aspects of events that unfold. A journalist cannot and should not ignore the government version; at the same time, he is not the spokesperson of the government.”
The FFC found that “in the guise of information gathering, threats and various forms of intimidation by the police have become part of the new ‘normal’ in the Kashmir valley, particularly after the imposition of central rule since August 2019”.
It expressed concern that “the public relations work of various government departments has been taken over by the Police”, and recommended that “this should cease as it is against the letter and spirit of the functioning of the various arms of a democratic government.”
Journalists, the committee said, “rely on communication networks like the Internet, and access to events and persons, to gather and transmit news”, which “a government has the power to snuff…out as we have seen in the case of JK”.
It noted that the suspension of mobile Internet whenever there is a conflict, and denying access to the scene of the military operation are ways to prevent free and fair newsgathering in J&K. These “policies must be reversed”, the committee said.
“Journalists must be allowed to go about their work as professionals, as long as they do not hinder normal military operations,” the report said.
“It is also noticed that the government establishment has denied normal privileges like ‘accreditation’ and freedom to travel locally and abroad… By choking lines of communication and a free flow of reporting, the government will only encourage the spread of rumors and hearsay, which is, in the long run, detrimental to everyone.”
The committee said “there is no convincing reason” for why the Kashmir Press Club was “superseded and put in cold storage”.