'Indirect censorship, rightwing agenda', journalists react to Hoot report

'Indirect censorship, rightwing agenda', journalists react to Hoot report

“For instance, they impose curfew and they don’t issue curfew passes, and if passes are issued they are not honored by the forces,” he said.

Kashmir was the most muzzled place in India, said a report, The Indian Freedom Report: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017, by media watchdog, The Hoot.

The internet was disconnected 77 times in the entire country last year, 40 times in Kashmir alone, the report said. Kashmir fared badly on other parameters too. 

For veteran journalist Yusuf Jameel, there is no official censorship as such but the authorities create circumstances in which journalists find it difficult, impossible sometimes, to carry out their professional work.

“For instance, they impose curfew and they don’t issue curfew passes, and if passes are issued they are not honored by the forces,” he said.

He referred to frequent closing down of internet services “on flimsy grounds, or slight provocations or for no reason at all” as a method to create a situation in which it becomes difficult for a journalist to work. This, he said, was indirect censorship.

“There is one case when they officially banned a newspaper, and with the rest they create condition where they can’t work.  If you go to cover a story, you aren’t allowed to go and if you still manage to talk to people and other people and then write the story you realise you can’t mail it to the office because internet is not working. After Burhan Wani killing, when broadband services were suspended I faxed my story and a colleague of mine at Delhi called me and laughed saying ‘you still have a fax machine at home,’” he said.

A senior journalist who has been reporting Kashmir for the past 20 years said the media gag in Kashmir is reflective of the prevailing political atmosphere in the country and the situation in Kashmir.

“The rightwing forces sometimes use the situation in Kashmir as an alibi to force their agenda on the people. Media therefore becomes a casualty because most Kashmiri reporters are reporting their own conflict in a sense because they are part of the society,” he said.

“There was a time when people from Delhi and other places would come and report for Kashmiris and then we would read that in newspaper. Right now Kashmiris are writing their own stories and they are trying to be impartial, they are trying to be as close to the reality as possible. But unfortunately truth on the ground is very bitter for the governing regime and for rightwingers who look at Kashmir through ultra nationalist prism, so it’s a deadly mix in which Kashmiris have been caught,” he added.

Social media sites have, he said, become a sort of a ground for competing narratives.

“There was a time when Kashmiris had no voice. But a lot of people, especially the generation raised during the conflict is turning to Facebook and Twitter. For every story that comes from New Delhi they counter it on the Facebook, which the government deems dangerous because they want to obscure the truth. We don’t see internet crackdown elsewhere,” he said.

Mufti Islah, who heads the operations of the news channel, CNN IBN, from Srinagar said, “Whenever there has been agitation in Kashmir, journalists were on the receiving end. The movement of journalist was always curbed and now we have this new trend of internet shutdown which is horrible.”

“I have stringers sending me reports from south Kashmir, and each time there is an internet blockade they are not able to send the stuff,” he said.