Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir police appears to be on their toes following a social media post from an obscure source mentioning the names of as many as 27 local journalists and other media persons and 12 political and social activists as being on the payroll of the Indian government.
Though the post assumed by some security officials here as a “hit list” or, at least, a “warning list” titled the “whole gang of so-called journalist/media fraternity working under Indian payroll” was deleted later, the J&K police authorities have taken the matter “very seriously” and decided “leave nothing to chance”.
Over the past few days, the police have got in touch with almost all Valley-based media persons individually to inquire if they feel threatened and needed security or any assistance from it. The list had categorized fourteen media persons and ten activists as ‘A+’, nine as ‘B’ and four as ‘C’ grade members of the ‘gang’. The remaining two had been left without any ranking.
On Friday, the police also installed CCTV cameras in almost every nook and cranny of Mushtaq Press Enclave, the media hub of Srinagar named after photojournalist Mushtaq Ali who was killed in a parcel bomb explosion in this correspondent’s office in September 1995.
It was in this area only where ‘Rising Kashmir’ editor Shuja’at Bukhari was gunned down by unknown assailants –accused by the authorities of being Lashkar-e-Tayyaba cadres- on June 14, 2018. Another journalist Parvaz Sultan was also murdered here in February 2003.
The area, less than 300 yards from City centre Lal Chowk witnessed grenade attacks, kidnappings and some other atrocious incidents involving various parties to the conflict since 1990 when the Kashmiri separatist campaign burst into a major violence.
The police officials said that the purpose of installing CCTV cameras in what is often referred to as ‘Press Colony’ is aimed at increasing the surveillance “in the interest of people living in or operating from the area”.
Last week, the police had said that they have registered a case against a blog post, vilifying Kashmiri journalists and political activists, which they claimed added to the vulnerability of the media. In a statement, the police said that an FIR has been registered against the URL handler for uploading posts “prejudicial to integrity, sovereignty and maintenance of peace and tranquility”. It added, “Not only this, list of political/media persons and public figures and also posts of Lashkar-I-Islam are uploaded with the intention to create fear psychosis among individuals.”
The media persons in Kashmir Valley have worked virtually on the razor’s edge during the past over three decades. As many as eighteen of them fell prey to violence-some of them were killed by militants and some by security forces or unknown assailants and others died in bomb explosions or shooting incidents. Each of the deaths has had a profound impact on the local press community.
Post-August 5, 2019, Kashmir media has been caught in a more complex situation in many ways. On the one hand, the government not only embraced several bizarre methods to discount and even run down independent journalists but also created a very hostile atmosphere in which it became more difficult for them to discharge their duties smoothly.
Several reporters who wrote stories critical of the policies and actions of the government and various other official agencies and the police had to cope with tough situations. Some of them were even summoned by the police and asked to disclose their news sources and cases under tough laws registered against a few on various pretext.
On the other hand, there has also been a trust deficit between media persons and average Kashmiri lately. Many Kashmiris complain that sections of local media including major Srinagar dailies have post-August 5 failed to reflect the ground reality of Kashmir and the overwhelming feeling of its residents and a few of them even chose to act as the “mouthpieces” of the government.
Sections of local media organizations have also come under severe criticism on social media and accused of “crawling” when asked by the authorities to “bend”.
However, various bodies of the Kashmiri journalists including editors and reporters have regretted the continued vilification of individuals representing the institution of media “even as they continue to be associated with the blood-soaked Srinagar dateline for the last three decades”.
In a joint statement, they said it had become a routine for diverse elements across all the political and ideological thoughts to pass judgment on the Kashmir media and eventually, make it the punching bag to suit their ends.
The organizations-Kashmir Editors Guild, Jammu and Kashmir Editors Forum, Kashmir Press Association, Kashmir Press Club, Kashmir Working Journalists Association, Jammu and Kashmir Working Journalist Association, Kashmir National Television Journalist Association and Kashmir Journalists Corps- asserted
“The media in Kashmir has been struggling to survive as an institution of public service for most of its recorded existence. While retaining its status, it has paid a heavy price to stay neutral to the politics and objective to the facts, a rare trait that hardly is being exhibited by the media while covering their own conflict”.
It added, “For countless reasons, the media in Kashmir is on the edge and the stakeholders are doing their utmost to bring in some stability to this key public service institution”.
Kashmir journalists across the groupings and the status they hold in their respective organisations have, once again, felt pained over the unwarranted propaganda, aimed at bringing a bad name to individuals and institutions for no apparent reasons or justification, the statement added. In their latest statement, the media organizations said, “It seems to have become a routine exercise of pinpointing individuals by making baseless accusations and thereby aiding the rumour mongering against them. We hope this propaganda against the Kashmir media stops as it only goes on to add to the vulnerability they face.”