Shooting the messenger

BY Naseer A Ganai| IN Regional Media | 05/06/2009
If the media is reporting the misuse of force by the state government against protesters is it unprofessional?
NASEER A GANAI on Omar Abdullah’s outburst over the Shopian coverage.

On June 1, 2009, when Kashmir was on boil against the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian district of South Kashmir by security forces, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah addressed a press conference.


In Shopian the women went missing on May 29 after they set out for the apple orchards near the fields. Their bodies were found on the morning of May 30 on the riverside. The family members and the residents alleged that  members of the security forces raped the women and then murdered them. The incidents evoked widespread protesters across Kashmir valley in which over 300 people have been injured, four of them are critical and one has succumbed to injuries. 


Back to the press conference of June 1, held by the chief minister. The CM said his government enjoys credibility among people and he would sacrifice power for the sake of credibility. However at the same press conference he contradicted himself when he said people have no faith on the institutions of the State and even if the government would come up with the findings about killing of the two women, people will not believe the findings of the government. Then he announced a judicial probe. So far, fine. 


But he didn¿t stop there. The chief minister asked the media not blow trivial issues out of proportion, and to use the word ¿alleged¿ when the allegation has not been proved. He referred to an incident in which an army truck hit a scooter outside the 15 Corps headquarter killing a youth. He said people lodged protests against the accidental killing and blocked the road and media gave it full coverage.


On the same day, he said, three other incidents involving civilians took place in valley but no one protested against them. The chief minister is forgetting that the army represents the State and as he rightly pointed out, people have no faith in institutions of the State. So they believed that the army vehicle deliberately hit the scooter and killed the youth. Hence, widespread protests and the local media coverage.


Abdullah then went on to comment on the media reportage of the Shopian incident saying that some news channels were reporting "Bandh in the valley against the rape and murder of two women by security forces." He wanted to know: how did they establish that rape has taken place when his government has not yet  been able to establish either rape nor the murder? He asked the media to be balanced.


But the question is, if the media is carrying the version of people of the Shopian district and family members of the two women, is it doing something wrong?


If the State government has not been able to tell people of J&K who are protesting for last four days, whether the women have been subjected to rape or not, is it fault of media?


The police have not registered the rape and murder case despite the Supreme Court of India ruling last year: "In a given case, even if the doctor, who examined the victim, does not find [any] sign of rape, it is no ground to disbelieve the sole testimony of the prosecutrix."


Now if the media is reporting about the misuse of force by the State government against the protesters is it unprofessional?


Doctors say that within 15 minutes it can be established whether rape has taken place or not but the State government that claims it has credibility among of people has failed to establish the cause of death of the young girls even after four days of the incident. And instead of accepting its incompetence it is trying to blame the media, particularly the local media and cable news networks in the valley. The State needs a scapegoat and it finds it  in media here.


Last year when pro-freedom marches started in Kashmir the State acted in the same manner. In August 2008 over a million people marched upto the United Nations Militarily Observers Group office in Srinagar calling for independence. The million-man march embarrassed the Government of India and the State Government.


So the government took two steps.


First, it went for undeclared curfew that has now become the norm, putting the whole valley under siege. Undeclared curfew is curfew without a formal announcement. In a situation of undeclared curfew, lawyers say there are more chances of killing as civilians don¿t know that stepping out would cost them with their lives. Last year the government  placed barbed wires across the streets and highways and restricted the movement of people.  It didn¿t allow anyone to come out. Almost all separatist leaders were booked under the Public Safety Act, under which a person is kept in jail without trial for 2 years. 


This year it followed same technique of undeclared curfew.


Its second step last year  after curbing the movement of people was to curb the media. It closed down all cable news channels without issuing any order. In J&K, the  State does not believe in written orders. It just tries to bring the ¿order¿ without issuing any order. Democracy Zindabad!


 The cable news channels, which were giving full coverage to protests and government action against protesters, were only allowed to work after they were forced to sign an agreement that they would show only to people what government wanted people should view. Here lies the difference between the sate and the national media: in Kashmir the media are being forced to comply with the State policies. The New Delhi-based news channels and newspapers comply with the State policies about Kashmir willingly.


However the cable news channels did not stick to that  agreement this month when they saw thousands on streets protesting against the alleged rape and murder. They showed everything. Protests, statements and of course the government version. Now they have been asked to follow last year¿s guidelines. If they fail to, the government can close them down.


Last year the State government acted against the newspapers as well. It didn¿t allow journalists to move out of their homes, and those who came out had their identity cards torn, while many were thrashed. This way, it stopped publication of all newspapers across Kashmir valley for over eight days.


In Kashmir protesters accuse media of not giving enough space to them and the security forces beat them up for "inciting the masses." For the last two years over a dozen photo journalists, camera men were thrashed and beaten up by the security forces while doing their professional work. Number of times photo journalists have gone for sit-in against the atrocities of police and security forces against them but situation never improves for them. At times they get thrashing from people as well.


Last year when scores journalists were thrashed by the security forces for covering protesters in Sopore, the Srinagar-based journalists who were working for local, national and international media groups; perhaps for the  first time, issued a statement. The September 2008 statement says it all:


"In the aftermath of the Amarnath land controversy, members of press in Kashmir have been coming under serious attack by the personnel of CRPF and in some measure by the crowds. We have reasons to believe that the attacks happen by deliberate design of the State agencies. When the governor N N Vohra was informed about these attacks, he pleaded ignorance and, in presence of some members of press and the secretary information, instructed the Director General of Police not to let such attacks to continue.


However, to cite just one instance, the attacks continued the next day, confirming our suspicion that the attacks are carried out by design. Journalists have faced irrational demands from CRPF personnel manning the streets like "you are not carrying a curfew pass for your camera." Such instances could tell volumes.


It seems Omar too wants journalists in Kashmir to carry curfew passes for their cameras. 




(The author is a Srinagar based-Journalist working with Greater Kashmir)






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