‘Distorted’ News Channel Report on Kashmir Triggers Protests in Gurez Region

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A section of the national media in India has come under fire for misrepresenting the present situation in Kashmir and for portraying a false narrative.

A file photo of protests in Kashmir. Credit: PTI

A file photo of protests in Kashmir. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: Along the Pakistan border and far from the Valley, which is in the midst of raging protests, people in the Gurez region of Kashmir took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against theNew Delhi-based news channel Zee News for “falsely portraying” their region as one that is opposed to the current agitation in the state following the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani.

The trigger for their protest was a report on the news channel on Tuesday in which a group of people – described by residents as “contractors and porters, working with the army” – were interviewed and their ‘anti-protest’ views passed off as representative of the local population.

“We are all Kashmiris. We are with Kashmir in these trying times; for the first time in past 26 years, aazadi [independence] slogans reverberated in Gurez market today,” a local businessman, Muhammad Maqbool Samoon, told The Wire.

He said that the news channel had “picked up” a group of people and “provoked them to speak in a way that fit their narrative”.

“One Habibullah Mir and some other persons from Tulail [in Gurez], who work as contractors and porters with the army, were interviewed by the news channel,” said Samoon.

“It was an attempt to vitiate the atmosphere in Gurez and project us as anti-Kashmir, which is far off from reality.”

According to Parvaiz Ahmad, another Gurez local who is a vegetable dealer, “It is a move to divide people of [the] entire state. There was a complete shutdown on Wednesday and protests marches were also carried out in protest against the news channel.” The issue “will be discussed after the Friday prayers and the culprits will be asked to explain their position,” he added ominously.

He also said that a senior police official of the level of superintendent of police and tehsildar had visited Gurez, which is a part of the Bandipora district in north Kashmir, today, to review the situation.

Being close to the Pakistan border, Gurez has a high concentration of army soldiers and until 2014, any outsider who wanted to visit had to first seek permission from the government. Even today, several areas in Gurez are inaccessible.

Ahmad said that in solidarity with Kashmiri aspirations, Gurez had observed a complete shutdown for three days from July 9 onwards, when protests broke out across the Valley.

The district commissioner of Bandipora, Sajjad Hussain Ganaie, confirmed that there were protests in Gurez against the news channel over the report.

“But it was not a major issue… the people later dispersed peacefully,” said Ganaie, downplaying the controversy.

Local MLA Nazir Ahmad Gurezi blamed the news channel for trying to add fuel to the by running “such stories”.

“They had carried a report showing some persons speaking against Kashmiri people. In present situation such reports will further deteriorate the situation and add fuel to the fire,” said Gurezi, who is also the deputy speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

He said that following the news report, people carried out a protest march against the killing of civilians in Kashmir to show their solidarity with the people of the Valley.

The Gurez incident, however, is not the first of its kind that has led to anger against national news channels for distorting the reality in the Kashmir Valley.

On July 16, the office of the divisional commissioner of Kashmir, Asgar Samoon, wrote to the principal secretary home, Jammu and Kashmir, requesting the state government to get the union home ministry to take action against Times Now for allegedly “instigating violence and spreading false information” about the present situation in Kashmir.

“It was recommended that the government should ask the union home ministry to take action against Times Now for their involvement in vitiating stability in the region and foiling the government efforts in restoring normalcy,” an official said.

He added that the divisional commissioner had also written to the deputy commissioner of Jammu to take action against two regional channels for “vitiating” the peace in the region.

Following the killing of militant commander Wani and the subsequent protests in the Valley, the government has already directed cable operators in Kashmir to take some national news channels and all Pakistani news channels off air for launching a “tirade of misinformation”.

IAS topper takes on media jingoism

On July 15, Shah Faesal, the first Kashmiri to top the Indian civil services examination, wrote that in the last few years a section of the national media has been “misrepresenting the idea of India in Kashmir, as part of a business strategy”.

“It has also been projecting lies about Kashmir to the rest of the country. It happened in 2008, in 2010 and in 2014, so there is nothing surprising about the tilt and the timing of this debate,” wrote Faesal, adding that nearly all the programs on Kashmir right now were aimed to “provoke” people, the coverage was “selective” and the intention of these programs appears to be to compound the problems of the state government.

Faesal, who is the director of school education, Kashmir, also slammed some television news channels that ran his picture along with that of Wani to make a comparison.

Here’s what he said:

In a subsequent article for the Indian Express, Faesal was even more direct, not flinching from directly naming four TV channels:

“Kashmir or no Kashmir, the biggest challenge for India, this time, is how to reclaim the custody of “national interest” from its national media, and restore communication with its neighbours and people. I have no hesitation in saying that Zee News, Times Now, NewsX and Aaj Tak are at the vanguard of a movement that will take India from a dialogical civilisation to a dumb, illogical civilisation.”…

“In Kashmir, people often confuse the outrageous editorial policy of the national media with the oppressive state policy. When Kashmiri representatives are bullied in TV debates, their aspirations ridiculed, their grievances shouted down, the symbols of Kashmiri pride insulted, or when non-issues are given precedence over the killing of the innocents, when military bravado is encouraged over civilian agony, when positive initiatives of the state government are overlooked, and truth is not shown at all, and most importantly, when cows are made to feel more important than the Kashmiri people, the frustration and anger will, expectedly, be directed against India. Every hour of prime time TV news aggression pushes Kashmir a mile westward from India.”

These strong words from a young IAS officer – hailed at one time by many of the same channels as an ideal “role model” for people in his state  – make it clear that whatever the ideological differences within Kashmiri society, most Kashmiris believe TV news is today a distorting mirror.

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