Cable censorship in Kashmir continues

So far no cable TV owner has approached the government seeking lifting of the 15 minute daily limit on the telecast of news.
PEERZADA ARSHAD HAMID documents what the channels showed on the Shopian controversy before censorship was clamped. Pix: Protests at Shopian

Even as things are returning to normal after 45 days of turmoil in Shopian, local cable TV continues to be censored, with a restriction of 15 minutes on news that can be shown. What exactly did the channels show in the first week of turmoil to bring the wrath of the government upon their heads? What have they shown subsequently? The Hoot presents a documentation.


The abduction followed by subsequent rape and murder of two young women (Aasiya and Neelofer) aged 17 and 23 years during intervening night of May 29 and 30 in Shopian town-50 Kilometers south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state became an important issue for both print as well electronic media to cover.


The gruesome incident triggered massive protests in the town on May 30, the day the bodies of women were recovered from the stream,  and was covered by the cameramen affiliated with local cable television channels in Srinagar.


Having proximity, the channels featured the news the same evening in their prime time bulletins and current affairs programmes in detail.The Cable TV channels in Srinagar Mouj Kashir (Mother Kahmir), Sen Channel (our channel), Wadi TV (Valley TV),  JK Channel, Take 1 and Himalayan Broadcasting Network (HBN) all showed the Shopian news.


The channels by and large had the similar shots of the incident, showing people carrying the bodies,  close up shots of the bodies, thousands of people marching in protest in Shopian town and raising slogans, shops completely closed down. The Mouj Kashir channel on the first day showed close-ups of the bodies, however in the subsequent days the channel used mosaics to hide the faces. It showed people carrying the bodies to hospital.


The Take 1 channel did not showed any footage on the first day, however on the second day the channel showed some file pictures of the slain women in their bulletin. 


 ETV URDU, a Hyderabad based television channel has been right from day one covering the Shopian incident without any fail for its Kashmir bulletin- ETV URDU (KASHMIR). The channel did not showed the close ups but was showing shots of the bodies wrapped in blankets being carried by people, police firing tearsmoke shells to chase demonstrators and demonstrations. The channel has been reporting the developments in the Shopian town on daily basis and aired a special report on the tragedy after a month elapsed.


The national news channel INX NEWS on the first day showed close-ups of the bodies, people protesting and pelting stones at the hospital in Shopian. However, for the second consecutive day the channel used mosaics to hide the face. The others channel like NDTV, CNN IBN and Times Now also reported the incident and were mostly getting updates from their reporters based in Srinagar. The channels were showing stone pelting, people protesting and police action as well.


Next day on May 31, the channels showed the protests that spilled to other towns including Srinagar city. The footage include demonstrations of the people, shutdown, contingents of police patrolling the streets and engaged in stone pelting in the downtown areas of Srinagar city and other places.


The Mouj Kashir along with other news items put the Shopian story as its lead and so did Sen and Wadi, except for the JK Channel and Take 1, that featured the story as second lead.  Mouj Kashmir and Sen are Srinagar-based channels, while as Take 1 and JK Channel are Jammu-based channels. Take 1 is headed by a Mr Davinder Rana, a big business magnate and a close associate of the incumbent Chief Minister Mr. Omar Abdullah. Mr Rana is also the member of State Legislative Council in Jammu and Kashmir. JK is headed by Subash Chowdhary, a businessman, who according to insiders does not want to take cudgels with the government or go against what his channel telecasts in Jammu. 


These channels showed clashes that broke out  in Shopian and Srinagar, shots of policemen chasing the stone-throwing youth, and interviews with the family members of the victims.The Mouj Kashir channel showed an interview of Neelofer’s Husband Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, who narrated the whole incident about the missing of two women and the ordeal faced by the family in searching the bodies. Ahanger rubbished the police version that the two women have died due to drowning and in the interview says that bodies of the two women bore violence marks.


The channel also showed the interview of the then Superintendent of Police (SP) of Shopian, Mr Javed Matoo, who said the two women have died due to drowning and ruled out any foul play in the mysterious death.


Sen Channel too featured the interview of the family, bytes from locals and the protest shots for this particular story. Wadi TV featured the interview of Superintendent (SP) of Police, Shopian, Mr Javid Matoo in the news bulletin and to support the newscast used video grabs of protests, stone pelting and police action. The S P in his interview to the channel ruled out any foul play into the killing of two women and said it was a case of drowning. He mentioned that no violence marks were on the bodies of the women.


The channels also showed entire press conference of Police and Divisional Commissioner Masud Samoon giving government version of the Shopian incident.


The owners of the cable TV channels say that they try to incorporate all the views from all the quarters in their news and current affairs programmes. If the channels at some point of time telecast the press conference of some separatist leader, at the same time they also keep their time slots open for any one from government to speak on the issue.



An example of this is the May 31 current affairs programme "Meezan" of 52 minute duration on the Mouj Kashir channel   It featured the lead story about the Shopian rape and murder case, and the programme contained the entire press conference of Police and Divisional Commissioner Masud Samoon giving government version of the Shopian incident. The other news items were of Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Affairs, Mr. Ali Muhammad Sagar; State Congress chief Mr. Saifuddin Soz and opposition Peoples Democratic Party President Ms.Mehbooba Mufti. In addition, a feature on World Tobacco Day was also showed.


JK Channel and Take1 channel on the particular day used limited shots and didn’t telecast the news the way it was shown by their counterparts. They used brief footage for their stories.


The only cable channel of Pulwama and Shopian, Himalayan Broadcasting Network (HBN) on this particular day ran the recorded footages of the situation in Shopian and Pulwama. It showed the demonstrations of the people, stone pelting, and police action on protesters. The HBN Pulwama on the first day did not showed any footage but from the next day it went to Shopian and covered the developments. In the evening the channel aired the footage of the day showing people demonstrating, interviews of the family and residents. The channel also accompanied the main opposition party leader Mehbooba Mufti  to Shopian during her march on June 4 and telecast it in the evening.


The channel also ran the interviews Mr Abdul Gani Ahanger, father of Aasiya and Mr Shakeel Ahmad Ahanger, husband of Neelofer, along with the vox populi recorded in Shopian over the tragedy.


Though the channel also carried other news items of the day but the Shopian incident was alloted the maximum time in the entire bulletin and current affairs programme. In the hour long duration, the channels used to devote 18-20 minutes to Shopian incident and rest 40 minutes to other news items of the day.


Up to June 6, the Shopian news, the protests demonstrations and stone pelting spilling to other parts of valley overshadowed the news in Kashmir and accordingly cable TV channels of valley too gave it an extensive coverage.

In the days to follow the channels also gave due coverage to the opposition leader Ms Mehbooba Mufti’s protest march in Lal Chowk and Shopian Chalo call coverage, along with the continued protests and clashes. It also incorporated in its bulletins the police atrocities and bytes of people who fall prey to police action.   


The HBN in Pulwama ran interviews of ruling party leaders in the Pulwama to accommodate their view. "We have to show whatever is going on. We can’t paint a rosy picture when the valley is burning. I don’t think it’s possible and in accordance with the professional ethics. However, for every story we try to get the other side and let people to decide themselves," said  Mr Imtiyaz Ahmad, a news editor with Wadi TV.


One thing that was evident in the footages of Cable TV channels was that they had censored the slogans of protesters. The channels were showing the mute footage devoid of any audio. The censorship was brought into force following the last year’s ban on Cable TV channels.


"We were running the programmes in line to the government directive. Prior to lifting of the last year’s ban, the government directed us that we should not telecast the anti-Indian, anti-state slogans, for according to them, such scenes instigate people and violates the norms of broadcasting. After that we never allowed such a thing. We didn’t run the audio while running such footage," said Mr Zahoor Gulzar, programme controller with a local Cable TV Mouj Kashir.


However, Mr Zahoor sarcastically says such law apply only to Cable TVin Kashmir and not to the Cable TV channels in Jammu or the New Delhi based channels. "There you would find the anti-government slogans and the state doesn’t have any problem with their coverage,"he adds.


The June 6 government communiqué to the Cable TV channels restricted the news telecast timing to just 15 minutes.  With just 15 minutes at their disposal, the channels find it extremely hard to accommodate the major happenings and that in turn has hit their revenues as well.


Mr Ishfaq Gowhar is Programme Executive of JK Channel, in Srinagar. He says government has problems with the duration not content and accepts that the local Cable TV channels too were to be blamed for the government crackdown.


"It is true that we have violated the government directions. After the last year’s agitation over the transfer of state forest land to the Amarnath shrine board, the authorities imposed ban on our operations. The ban was removed after discussions of the cable TV operators with the government. At that time we accepted that the news would be telecast only for 30 minutes. But later we stretched the news. This has not gone well with the government," said Mr Gowhar.


While government communicated the orders to Srinagar based channels, the Pulwama based HBN was even prevented by the local police and civil administration from covering the protests for couple of days following the government order.


"My cameramen were stopped on the road by the police officials from covering the incident. Thereafter, after four days they allowed us to cover the incidents," said Mr Wahid-u-Rehman Parra, the owner of HBN. 


Cable culture


The cable operators have braved militant threats to set up a network for cable television in the valley. There have been instances when some separatist outfits asked them to close their operations. Many people associated with cable networks have got killed during the turmoil. The militants many a time have asked the cable owners to suspend their operations for the programmes and films showed on it was being used to promote indecency and immorality in the society. At many a place grenade were lobbed at the cable offices.


Cable has given an alternate media to the people to air their grievances. These channels have a considerable viewership particularly during the prime time because of their  proximity to local people.


"Cable TV channels have played a role in highlighting our grievances. New Delhi-based media channels don’t find our local grievances newsworthy, state-owned television can not annoy the officials, so in such a scenario Cable TV was very effective," said Mr. Muzaffar Syed, a Srinagar resident.


There have been times when government acknowledged their functioning. Often during important days like January 26 and August 15, these channels are awarded for their functioning. "I remember the statement of Ms. Tanveer Jehan as a Deputy Commissioner Srinagar that ‘Cable industry is a good sign for the Valley’. How has this thinking changed now," asks Mr. Amjad, owner of Sen Channel.



National Media


On May 30, 2009, the day when the bodies of the two women were recovered from nearby stream, almost all the New Delhi based television news channels having bureaus in Srinagar reported the incident and showed some video shots of people carrying the bodies and protesting. Thereafter until now, the news continued to find a mention in the bulletins as per the developments. Protesters hurling stones, police firing tear smoke canisters and visuals of complete strike still find space in the newscasts.


"We have just 15 minutes at our disposal and can’t report the news, while as New Delhi based TV news channels can run debates, discussions and play file shots whenever they want," said Mr Imtiyaz.


Prior to this year’s ban the cable TV channels were telecasting the protest demonstrations, news conferences of separatist leaders on their channels. However the act has not gone well with the government and it imposed a blanket ban.


However the monitoring of cable telecasts makes it  that clear equal  time is  given to government functions and press conferences.





Cable TV channels need to furnish the CD’s of their daily telecast to the police and information department the next day.  Unwritten directions on this were issued to the owners soon after this year¿s ban. A special cell with the police scrutinizes the daily programmes and maintains the dairy. With a month gone by the government doesn’t seem to be interested in lifting the ban on Cable TV channels.


On June 3, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Mr.Mehraj Ahmad Kakroo send a three-page letter to various Cable TV operators taking cognizance of some "objectionable" coverage. One such letter has been served to Mauj Kashir channel as well, where in the channel was accused of giving preferential coverage to the activities of the separatist leadership and also repeatedly shown the glimpses of secessionist activities, stone pelting etc in such a manner that could influence and arouse sentiment of people.


"Such motivated telecasts also hamper the process of peace, prosperity and development of the State," the DC states in the letter addressed to the Managing Director of Mauj Kashir.


Citing an example of May 23 bulletin, the DC writes: "Mauj Kashir channel in its News Programme 2134-2212 hours (local GMT) gave extensive coverage to the activities of High Court Bar Association, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and speech of Mr. Syed Ali Shah Geelani for about 11 minutes." The letter has been framed based on  inputs from the  police department, which monitors the programmes of these channels and keep a record of it.


So for no cable TV owner has approached the government seeking lifting of ban on their telecast. Insiders at the Take 1 channel say that they have never indulged in sensationalism and are running their programmes on professional lines.  Being the main channel, it could have challenged the government in the courts of law but since Rana is the part of government, the channel chooses to remain silent.   


See also, Local Cable TV becomes a victim of Shopian unrest,



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