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Draconian govt curbs choke news media in Kashmir: report

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Draconian govt curbs choke news media in Kashmir: report
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New Delhi: A fact-finding committee (FFC) appointed by the Press Council of India has found that news media is being suppressed in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly after the abrogation of Article 350, and journalists are being harassed heavily, local administration choking the press with extensive restrictions, The Indian Express reported.

FFC, formed in September 2021, stated in its report that there is a long list of journalists who were harassed in order to bring them into the government's reigns. It said that the state administration suspects that there are a large number of journalists who support the militants' cause.

The reports say that the Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha told FFC that many journalists are persuaded by anti-nationalism. He admitted that he only had engagements with select journalists, though he used to allow open press conferences when he took office.

The report testified that numerous journalists were put to interrogation- at the notorious "Cargo Centre" where militants are taken- and were asked to questionnaires intended to profile them. The questionnaire contains some 25 questions which include seeking the journalists' political allegiance, properties owned and relations in Pakistan. Moreover, the Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar had said that they are profiling 80% Kashmiris and journalists are no exception.

Journalists had complained about being harassed, facing accusations for aiding separatists, lengthy interrogations, detentions and arrests for alleged fake news circulation. Police have arrested 49 journalists since 2016, a number not so small after J&K has a very small press corps. Eight were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The report asserted that the administration could not label journalists anti-national and charge sedition just because they wrote against government policies. Journalists have no obligation to be the government's mouthpiece, praising its policies and becoming its spokesperson. In conflict zones, for instance, journalists cannot ignore the government's version, but that never means the former should be the latter's spokesperson, the report said.

Now, Police has taken the public relations works for the government, which is against the functioning of a democratic government, the report said. Further, it noted that journalists rely on communication channels such as the internet to report from conflict areas. But the government has the upper hand in controlling such media and could "snuff out" them as they wish. It would hamper the free and fair sharing of news from conflict zones, and government must ditch such policies.

Journalists must be allowed to practise their profession freely, the report suggested. Blocking communication lines would spread rumours and could be "detrimental" to everyone, the report argued.

Ultimately it questioned the Police taking over Kashmir Press Club. It sought a convincing reason for the move. It called for the restoration of the press club's registration and added, "and government officials should not interfere in the election process of what is essentially a private body of newspersons".

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TAGS:Free Press Journalism Article 370 abrogation Jammu and Kashmir 
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