Srinagar: Kashmir’s journalist fraternity and Kashmir Press Club today held an interactive session “cyber curfew”, seeking an end to the ongoing internet ban which has entered sixth month since August 5 last year. Several Kashmiri journalists, editors, and photojournalists shared their experiences of working without internet for the last 156 days – the longest internet shutdown imposed in the world.
The interactive session was followed by a peaceful sit-in protest inside the press club premises.
Journalists from different media organisations and representing leading journalist bodies of the Valley urged the authorities to restore internet services for the media fraternity so that they can properly discharge their professional duties.
Senior journalist Ehsan Fazili said that it’s “very unfortunate that in this 21st century Kashmir’s journalists are deprived of internet for the past 156 days and counting”.
Journalist Naseer Ganie said that despite the continued internet shutdown and hostile conditions, Kashmir’s journalists reported about the ground situation for several national and international publications in the past five months since the lockdown began on August 5 last year.
Another journalist Peerzada Ashiq compared the curbs faced by Kashmir media and journalists since August 5 with Stalin’s Russia and Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan.
“The post August 5 situation in Kashmir is unprecedented. Even in the early 1990s, the media in Kashmir did not face such unprecedented curbs. We also have to see what happened to those who summoned the courage to speak up or write in an objective manner,” said Ashiq adding that journalists were also being summoned by the local police regarding stories done post August 5.
Ashiq said that the internet is a major tool of communication for journalists for research and to gain access to information and file stories in time.
Haroon Rashid Shah, who represents Kashmir Editors’ Guild, said that Valley’s media fraternity abandoned Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of the Jammu-based English daily Kashmir Times, when Bhasin filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the internet ban imposed from August 5.
“What did we do when Anuradha chose to fight? We left her alone in her struggle,” said Shah, adding that the media in Kashmir lacks cohesiveness and unity when it matters the most.
“Perhaps the government considers Kashmiri media as part of the problem. That is why Kashmiri journalists are denied access to internet,” said Shah. “Perhaps the government considers Kashmir media as part of the problem. That is why Kashmiri journalists are denied access to internet.”
Shahnawaz Khan, another Kashmiri journalist, questioned the role of local newspapers and media organisations. “When asked to bend, Kashmir’s press didn’t even crawl; it went down on its knees. We could have simply closed down the newspapers,” said Khan. “Collectively we have failed and even if internet is restored now, what difference will the Kashmir press make now?”
Shafat Farooq, a young journalist, said several Kashmiri reporters working for various local media organisations have either lost their jobs or faced salary cuts in the past five months after the lockdown began on August 5 last year.
“Editors are more interested in securing government and private advertisements than doing journalism,” he said.
Editor Kashmir Images Bashir Manzar said it was not correct to only blame editors and owners of local newspapers as they operate under difficult circumstances and work within unwritten rules and red lines.
“It is true that authorities may not tell you directly what to do or what not to do, but editors functioning in a conflict zone know the red lines,” said Manzar.