Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an immediate withdrawal of the new Media Policy announced by India for occupied Kashmir.
A statement issued by the RSF said the Indian government assumes the right to harass journalists and media judicially and economically through the policy if the local press publishes content it doesn’t like.
With the media policy openly declaring that it aims to foster a genuinely positive image of the government, the RSF said the policy statement gives Jammu and Kashmir’s Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) the de facto right to exercise pre-and-post-publication control over all journalism in the territory for the next five years.
It also referred to the policy statement saying there would be a background check of every publisher, editor and reporter before their media outlet is granted empanelment and also the provision in the policy that any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti-national activities or in plagiarism shall be de-empanelled besides being proceeded against under law.
The RSF said that any reporter who is de-empanelled, will be denied official accreditation and, as a result, any rights normally accorded to journalists. “And for media outlets, “de-empanelment” will mean the loss of almost all advertising income since state advertising is in practice controlled by the DIPR in Jammu and Kashmir, ” the RSF said.
“There is no definition of what constitutes fake news or anti-national content, the government has absolutely infinite interpretative leeway to censor any journalism it does not like and to impose its own narrative,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said. He said that by means of this totally Orwellian regulation, the Kashmir administration becomes plaintiff against the free press, judge and executioner all in one. “We therefore call for the withdrawal of this directive, which is unworthy of India’s democracy and will have the immediate effect of inducing a profound self-censorship that in practice amounts to prior censorship,” he added.
The RSF statement quoted a local freelancer, Quratulain Rehbar, as saying, “It will be possible for any journalist to be prosecuted by someone who thinks their reporting is ‘false’,”. “People like me will think twice before covering a very important event or one that could be critical for the government,” Rehnar said.
Junaid Nabi Bazaz, another freelancer, feared that no newspaper will risk violating the policy. “Reporters can go to prison and media can be banned indefinitely without recourse to the courts,” he told RSF. “If it remains in effect, this policy will put the last nail in the coffin of [Kashmiri] journalism,” Bazaz said.
Columnist, Gowhar Geelani, said the policy, simply officializes previous actions designed to control the media and freedom of expression, and to impose a single narrative. The policy, he said, will result in an atmosphere of terror to which some are likely to succumb.—KMS