Indian Kashmir adopts new media policy sparking censorship fears

By Shah Abbas

Srinagar, India, Jun 10 (efe-epa).- The authorities in India-administered Kashmir have adopted a new media policy that digs into the background of journalists and media houses, evoking criticism from the press and activists who see it as a ploy to silence the media and make it toe the official line.

Under the new policy, the government can conduct a background check of media persons while issuing a security clearance and giving accreditation.

Moreover, under the new policy a background clearance has also been made mandatory for media organizations before enlisting them for government advertisements.

“The policy attempts to thwart misinformation, fake news and tries to develop a mechanism that will raise alarm against any attempt to use media to vitiate public peace, sovereignty and integrity of the country,” the Department of Information & Public Relations (DIPR) said in a statement.

The local government of Indian Kashmir has been headed by a Lieutenant Governor representing New Delhi since the state’s semi-autonomous status was scrapped in the beginning of August 2019 and the state was bifurcated into two federally administered regions.

Moreover, the authorities arrested a large number of politicians, activists, businessmen and citizens, and imposed restrictions on movement and communication to keep the situation under control in the restive state that has witnessed armed insurgency since the late 1990s.

“It is to control everybody who raises his head,” human rights group Coalition of Civil Societies Coordinator Khurram Parvez told EFE regarding the new media policy.

According to government officials, the policy was already announced by the authorities in Indian Kashmir on June 2, and was being implemented now.

The DIPR claimed it was the first time that guidelines were laid down for “empanelment of Audio-Visual and electronic media such as FM, radio, Satellite and cable TV channels.”

However, sections in the media expressed strongly opposition to the policy and stressed it undermined freedom of the press.

“This new explicit policy is clearly in line with the government’s attempts at controlling press freedom in Kashmir,” a senior journalist based in Srinagar – Kashmir’s main city – told EFE on condition of anonymity.

He added that such attempts have intensified since August last year and seek “to further interfere with journalists’ abilities to report ground realities.”

Another Srinagar-based analyst, who teaches Mass Communication and Journalism at Kashmir University and asked for his name to be withheld, said that under the garb of the new media policy, the authorities sought to monitor content published in newspapers and other media.

They want to “decide what is ‘fake’, ‘anti-social’ and ‘anti-national’ as per their will,” he underlined.

The government statement justified the new media policy by highlighting the “significant law and order and security considerations” in Jammu and Kashmir, where it has been fighting “a proxy war supported and abetted from across the border (a reference to Pakistan).”

“In such a situation, it is extremely important that the efforts of anti-social and anti-national elements to disturb peace are thwarted,” it read.

Meanwhile, activist Parvez claimed it was one of the means employed by the state over the years against media professionals to ensure that “the only narrative which will be allowed to be propagated should be palatable for the government.”

Over the last few months, several journalists in Kashmir have been booked by the police under stringent security laws, and some have even been summoned and interrogated for their reporting or social media posts.

In April, the global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said India had dropped two spots on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index and was now ranked 142 in a list of 180 countries.

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