Srinagar: The Press Council of India (PCI), in its latest report released on Monday in Srinagar, has stated that while the turmoil in Kashmir, especially in the past two decades, has “adversely impacted the businesses”, the media has witnessed growth. This growth, however, has come at a heavy cost – more than a dozen local journalists have lost their lives.
The report titled ‘Media and Media Scenario of J&K’ was adopted by a the full council of the PCI led by chairman Justice (retired) C.K. Prasad. The PCI had earlier constituted a five member sub-committee to examine the report of the interlocutors on the media in Jammu and Kashmir. The sub-committee consisted of president of the Indian Journalists Union S.N. Sinha as convenor, G. Sudhakar Nair, Suman Gupta, Sondeep Shankar, Prakash Dubey and C.K. Nayak as a co-opted member. They met about 300 media associations, journalists and officials in the state
“The media’s growth has been high during the past two decades, which has seen a big increased in the number of newspapers and periodicals in the state,” the report states, adding that the number of government-approved newspapers and periodicals in the state (in which government advertisements are released) has now increased to as high as 467. “The Jammu division accounts for as many as 271 of these, while the Kashmir division has only 196 of these. Ladakh has two publications which are not empanelled. The total number of the state’s newspapers/periodicals on the DAVP panel is only 146, of which 58 are from Kashmir and 88 are from Jammu.”
The report states that the global satellite television boom has also had an impact on Jammu and Kashmir, which shows a ‘big boom’ in the number of bureaus of news channels and growth of local cable channels run by cable service operators. “The media industry, thus, has become a huge job provider to young journalists. But since private business has been shrinking, there is little scope for private advertising and this is making the media heavily dependent on government advertisements,” the report states.
The report also says that the Union and state government reportedly at times uses this situation to their advantage by arm-twisting the media without any legitimate reasons. “On occasions, when the centre stops the advertisement of a particular media house, the state government tries to compensate it by giving it more advertisement from its kitty, and vice versa,” the report states.
The PCI committee has also pointed out an anomaly in the accreditation policy of the state government, which grants accreditation only to the journalists of Srinagar and Jammu. “No accreditation is given to any journalists working from other regions or districts.”
While differentiating the “two narratives of the Kashmiri media and media of rest of India”, the report states that “it is clear that the complexity of the situation throws up big challenges for the state’s media”. The report also notes that the “journalists in Kashmir have to manage the reality of walking on the tightrope amidst the threats of gun and political arm-twisting”.
The report also states that regional sub-nationalism is at play in the media story of the state, turning it into Jammu verses Kashmir, as the “two regions of the state pull in different directions”.
The report also pointed at the alienation cause by the state-centric approach of the national media while covering Jammu and Kashmir. “The people were sensitive about the way they were being reported in the national media particularly electronic media which is seen as deliberately misinterpreting facts and events.”
On the issue of “unhealthy sources of funding of some media organizations”, the report states in its conclusion that conclusive evidence of such funding is difficult to come by. “Even the government agency could not provide any evidence in this regard, though there is some talk about funding from across the border. They alleged that funding across the border was there some 25 years ago, but it cannot be verified of crosschecked now.”
The report has also highlighted the issue of non-availability of information from the government agencies which compels the local journalist to get news from unauthorised sources. “The committee discussed the issue at length with security agencies and they, too, appreciated the problem. The committee suggested that a combined information centre should be formed in all three regions to provide all relevant official information without wasting time of the local media persons.”
The PCI further goes on to say that the government and armed forces “must take care to honor the press accreditation cards and the identity cards issued by the recognized media houses”. The committee also expressed concern about frequent internet and mobile services ban imposed in the state. “In this age, no media can work without these supports. The policy of curbs on internet and mobile services has to be reviewed urgently,” the report states, also pointing out that “in the Ladakh region internet of BSNL was down for four months and even now, no internet or mobile data works in the area regularly”.
The committee also talks about the lack of welfare measures for the journalists in the state. “Even in the cases of death or serious injuries, there is no one to take care of them and they or their families have to face the hardship all by themselves,” the report states. “It is good that the government has now come out with a policy of creating a journalists’ welfare fund. It should cover all the journalists ad be implemented without wasting any more time.”
“J&K is passing through a disturbing situation and it is tough to perform journalistic duty in such an environment without safety precautions. Journalists which includes photojournalists, camerapersons and reporters working in conflict situations should be provided with bulletproof jackets and helmets by either the state government or their organisations,” the report continues.
Interestingly, while highlighting the concern of the local media about outside journalists, especially from electronic channels who allegedly distort ground realities while reporting from Kashmir, the report states that “more journalist and media professionals should be encouraged to visit Kashmir to give all aspects of the coverage for the rest of the country”.
Expressing concern over the non-implementation of the Justice Majithia wage board and poor salaries for newspaper staffers, the committee also urged the government to enforce the wage board, as directed by the Supreme Court.
Some of the recommendations made by the committee listed at the end of the report include:
- Include allocation of advertisement revenue and rate of advertisement in the state which the committee says should be increased by the state government. Further, the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity’s policy should be adopted for the distribution of advertisements.
- The DAVP should increase the quantum of its advertisements in Jammu and Kashmir.
- Small papers and periodicals should be given central/state advertisements in all regions of the state, particularly in border areas.
- Journalists working in conflict situations should be provide with bulletproof jackets and helmets.
- The J&K Journalists Welfare Fund scheme should cover all working journalists and be implemented without any further delay.
- The state government should give accreditation to journals working at the district level and in border areas too.
- The government should ensure a system to provide news/information without delay to local journalists.
- The army and paramilitary forces should also work out a more liberal and transparent information system to give put news as soon as possible to local journalists. Public relations departments need to play a more proactive role in providing information and facilitate coverage during any operations.
- The gap between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the national media should be bridged. Inter-regional media exchange will promote a better understanding among Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh journalists. Similarly, J&K journalists should be encouraged to visit other parts of the nation and interact with their counterparts there. Journalist teams from other parts of the nation should similarly visit the state to interact with the state’s journalists to understand J&K.
Skepticism in Kashmir media
The Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG), an umbrella body of editors of various Valley-based publications, while conveying its concerns over the PCI’s “silence” on issues confronting the media in Kashmir for the past 30 years, suggested that the “PCI will have to revisit its 1991 report ‘Crisis and Credibility’ which KEG believes was sort of ‘joint venture between PCI and then government of India to undermine and subvert the institution of media in Kashmir,” said a KEG spokesman.
The KEG delegation also told the PCI team that “though this report regarding rapes in Kunan Poshpora did not impact the conduct of media in Kashmir, it undoubtedly impacted the institutional neutrality of the PCI and the PCI will have to look for some corrections”.
“KEG offered two suggestions on this front: either to reinvestigate the media coverage of the incident or withdraw its earlier report,” the KEG spokesman said.
The KEG also told the visiting PCI team that although the Kashmir media has lost around 13 professionals in the past few decades, but “the PCI has never bothered to issue even a one-liner in this regard asking authorities to investigate these murders”. The KEG added that frequent curbs on media, attacks on and harassment of media professionals, particularly photographers, and frequent disruption in internet services have also failed to attract the attention of the PCI.
Raising the issue of DAVP blacklisting some publications in Kashmir, the KEG also told the committee members that “the governance systems in place are intervening to prevent media from getting the share of revenue from a surging consumer market as is not happening anywhere in the rest of India”.
Valley-based journalists also shared their skepticism, calling the report too little too late in appreciating the difficult circumstances in which the Kashmir-based journalists have to operate. “It is a good report as far as the welfare of journalists here is concerned, but the report has crossed its brief when it says journalists from outside should come and report from Kashmir,” says Kashmir-based journalist Naseer A. Ganai. “Most of the problems we are facing in journalism here is because of the parachute journalism when outside journalists who have no idea about the ground reality of Kashmir are dispatched to report on Kashmir.”
Another local journalist said any PCI report on Kashmir cannot be taken seriously due to the trust deficit between Kashmiri journalists and the Indian media watchdog due to the report of the PCI committee led by B.G. Vergese report on the Kunan Poshpora mass rapes in the early 1990s. “During their recent interaction with the KEG, the PCI did not agree either to withdraw that report or reinvestigate the Kunan Poshpora mass rapes that had not only put a question mark on the rape victims instead of empathising with them but also undermined the credibility of Kashmiri journalists who had quoted the victims accusing the Indian Army of the mass rape,” said local journalist Faisul Yaseen, adding that in such circumstances, the PCI report on Kashmiri media appears superficial and a mere eyewash. “Also, the PCI has never in the past three decades of Kashmir’s raging conflict issued a two-liner statement condemning the action of troops or paramilitary forces or the subsequent governments for the killings, injuries or arrests of Kashmiri journalists.”
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.