Srinagar: In the latest on Srinagar’s media facilitation centre – where journalists have been using the internet to file stories after standing in line for hours at a time – it appears that a new rule has been instated which bars freelancers and those who work for other web portals from using the centre’s services.
The step has been condemned by various journalists who have said this is yet another tactic to not allow scribes in the Valley to work. Journalists from across Kashmir, because of the communication clampdown, have been forced to travel to Srinagar or send across pen drives with other people headed in that direction.
One reporter, among several who had similar complaints, who works for a weekly magazine, said he was stopped from using the centre’s services when he reached on Sunday to update file an update.
“I was told to not come daily since I work with a weekly magazine. This is harassment,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
Another reporter, Aakash Hassan, who works for News18.com, said on Twitter that he had been stopped when he said that he worked for an online portal.
“They stopped me near the entrance and told me that freelancers and those who work for news portals are not allowed. I requested them to give me two minutes to check my mail,” he said.
According to Hassan, this kind of humiliation has become a routine.
Hassan left the centre after putting out a couple of tweets:
I have been barred from the Media facilitation centre–the only place for journalists to access the internet at in #Kashmir. The officials of @diprjk told me that journalists working as freelancers or reporting for websites or monthly magazines are not allowed inside.
— Aakash Hassan (@Aakashhassan) November 11, 2019
“I am leaving the centre. This is yet another humiliation for journalists in Kashmir,” he said in a second tweet.
Filing copies at the centre has already been a cumbersome prospect for journalists in a climate where the government appears to want no stories to be coming out of Kashmir. The centre, which was first located at the Sarovar hotel near the UN office for around two months has now been shifted to the Department of Information and Public Relations. Access to the internet is given for only half an hour per person.
After being shifted to a single room at the department where reporters don’t even have a place to sit, a freelancer asked: “Is this the way to treat anyone?”
“Freelance reporters outside Kashmir may be respected, but see how we are being treated here,” he said.
This is not the first time journalists have complained about high-handedness at the media facilitation centre. A few days ago, officials asked all those visiting the centre show their press cards to gain entry.
“Who would make them understand that freelancers don’t own an identity card?,” the freelancer asked.
Making matters worse, with the start of the snow season, the internet at the centre has been spotty – in fact, it has only been available for a few hours a day.
This reporter spoke to many journalists, but none wished to talk on the record for the fear that they would be outright banned from using the centre.
After August 5, when the central government binned Article 370 and Article and bifurcated the state into two union territories, internet and communication lines were snapped in Kashmir. It took the government more than a week to set up the media centre in Kashmir.
Since then, for the past three months, the media in Kashmir has been entirely dependent on the media facilitation centre.
Last month, journalists in Kashmir protested against the communication blackout, and took out a march from the press club to press enclave. Many held placards which read “free us from media facilitation centre,” and “free communication gag.”
Journalists from multiple media associations described the blockade of the internet and mobile phones as a ‘gag’ on their functioning and have demanded that the government restore internet and mobile connectivity.
In a joint statement, the protesting journalists said, “We were unable to cover assignments due to the prevailing communication gag imposed by the government. In absence of internet and broadband services, the local newspapers have not been able to upload their internet editions or update the news on the web-portals.”