The Jammu and Kashmir government’s new media policy has come under strong criticism with political parties saying the policy will give the government a free hand to militate against journalists and muzzle free speech.
The policy says that background check of newspaper editors, publishers and reporters be carried out before empanelment of newspapers and media organisations and outlet. The policy gives power to the Department of Information & Public Relations (DIPR) to examine the content of print, electronic and other media for “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities.
“Any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti national activities or in plagiarism shall be de-empaneled besides being proceeded against under law,” the policy reads.
The government early this week issued the media policy saying the broad objective of it is to ensure a synchronised and effective use of all forms of media to build public trust, foster a genuinely positive image of the government based on performance and strengthen relationships with key stakeholders.
The policy begins with saying J&K has significant law and order and security considerations. “It has been fighting a proxy war supported and abetted from across the border. In such a situation, it is extremely important that the efforts of anti-social and anti-national elements to disturb the peace are thwarted. In order to ensure it, it shall be made incumbent that before empanelment of newspapers, news portals for release of advertisements by the government, the antecedents of the paper, news portal as well that of its publisher/editors/key personnel are duly gone into,” the media policy reads.
It also says while giving accreditations, a robust background check including verification of antecedents of each journalist would be carried out with the assistance of the relevant authorities. “For this purpose, the guidelines for accreditation shall be revised and updated to reflect this requirement.”
“There shall be no release of advertisement to any media which incite or end to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of India or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior,” the policy reads.
PDP spokesperson Syed Suhail Bukhari described the policy as step towards demolishing the democratic institutions, militating against journalists, and killing free voices with absolute immunity. He said that by bringing in the new media policy, the government is actually implementing yet another element of the agenda it embarked on August 5 last year to disenfranchise and disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“The present media policy should not be viewed in isolation. It is a very much inseparable part of the game plan which will bulldoze the institutions of justice and fair-play sans any compunction,” said Bukhari.
The National Conference took strong exception to the new media policy announced by the J&K government, terming it an “assault on freedom of speech and role of the press in democracy.”
“Press is meant to agitate, investigate, scrutinise institutions and individuals, government and others. Freedom of press is what underlines the difference between democracy and despotism; it is the lifeblood of democracy,” said party spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar, while expressing concern over the new media policy.
A senior journalist pleading anonymity said that the policy has not defined anti-national activities and hasn’t spelled out what is unethical, and thus, it gives immense power to the government over the media, making it an extension of the state and the DIPR. He said this experiment will be implemented in J&K and then exported to other states and UTs.
Incidentally, the policy is being condemned by political parties in Jammu and Kashmir but local newspapers are silent about it fearing that criticising the policy could lead them into trouble.
“We will have to sit and see how to react to it,” says an editor of a local newspaper.
Since August 5, 2019 there have been several protests by journalists based in Kashmir against harassment by the police and other government agencies.