No newspapers in Kashmir till govt apologises?

BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Media Freedom | 20/07/2016
Government doublespeak angers the Kashmir press, as Mattoo claims CM did not know of the three-day ban.

Pix: the international coverage for the press ban may have provoked the denial by CM  Mehbooba Mufti's advisor.


Srinagar: Amid a silence over the ban on publication of newspapers in Kashmir for three days, a strange statement from a senior government functionary left everyone in media fraternity agitated. The government has not banned publishing of newspapers, said close aide and political advisor to chief minister Amitabh Mattoo. 

The motive behind such a statement was clearly aimed as an attempt to control the damage done by ban. Yet the damage was unlikely to be contained as international press has amply highlighted it. 

Mattoo told NDTV, “There was no ban on newspapers, there was some miscommunication. Papers can publish. In the age of globalisation, there is no question of imposing a ban. The Chief Minister herself believes in freedom of expression, even if it is against the establishment.”

Mattoo comments clashed with government spokesperson and education minister Naeem Akhtar, who announced the ban on Saturday. Not only did Naeem speak to the Hindustan Times, Indian Express and Associated Press, but he also  told newspaper editors and owners over the phone when they were in a meeting to not publish the newspapers “in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir valley in next three days aimed at subverting peace. Strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible.”

It was learnt that Mehbooba was quite aware of the developments on media ban. But she  received a call from New Delhi as the media gag brought lot of “negative” coverage and focus on Kashmir. 

“Mehbooba has a habit of reading newspapers everyday morning on her own. If she was unaware about the ban announced by her minister, didn’t she feel the absence of her habit,” a top government official told the Hoot. 

This decision was part of other decisions such as disabling mobile telephony and Internet services for imposing complete information blockade and she was in loop, he said.

A senior editor of Kashmir’s largest circulated daily Greater Kashmir Zahir-ud-din insisted that media fraternity “understands” such contradictory statements from the government. 

“While one minister imposed the ban, his colleague is saying something different now. The ban is nothing new. We have seen and understand these conspiracies since 1993,” he said.

Kashmir is not facing press ban for the first time. A media clampdown was imposed during the peak of militancy in the 1990’s and twice in the tenure of the  Omar Abdullah-led government---2010 and 2013. 

Mattoo who termed the ban as “miscommunication”, tried to convince the newspapers owners and editors who gathered on Tuesday to discuss the press emergency in Srinagar. But they did not relent demanding that the government own the ban and tender an official apology for their media clampdown.

Even the government’s action of removing a Senior Superintendent of police in whose jurisdiction overnight raids on printing presses were conducted in Budgam district could not convince media persons. 

Many journalists such as Ahmed Ali Fayyaz while questioning his transfer wrote on Facebook that “If the decision of media gag, that has conversely internationalised the Kashmir issue and projected India as a failing democracy and washed away all of this country's diplomatic achievements of the last 26 years, had been taken at the highest level and enforced through Police, why was Budgam SP Fayaz Ahmad Lone culled out as scapegoat?” 

Another journalist while explaining the issue pointed out that police officers seized newspaper copies at many other places in Srinagar but no action followed them.  

Editor Masood Hussain of the weekly Kashmir Life, who read out a statement after the meeting was over,  said the government should own the ban and guarantee that media operations are not hampered from the movement of staff, to newsgathering, printing and the distribution of the newspapers. 

The Kashmir Reader editor-in-chief Hayat Bhat said everyone in the meeting wanted the government to officially apologise for the ban. “Mattoo verbally apologised but we want the government to come up with an official statement,” said Bhat.

Later in the evening, an official spokesperson in a statement said there was no restrictions on printing and publishing of newspapers.

“The district magistrate Srinagar and Budgam has clarified that there is no restriction on printing and publishing and distribution of newspapers in districts,” it said. Yet newspapers would not hit the stands unless an official apology comes up because it would expose the doublespeak.


Moazum Mohammad is a Srinagar-based journalist working at the Kashmir Reader. He tweets @moazum_m  



The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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