Post the communication lockdown, Kashmir’s muzzled media unable to function

Since Aug 5, when Article 370 was abrogated and J and K bifurcated into two UTs, local newspapers have hardly carried any editorial content, and news websites haven’t been updated

Screenshots of Kashmiri news websites, which have not been updated since the midnight of August 4
Screenshots of Kashmiri news websites, which have not been updated since the midnight of August 4

Majid Maqbool and Gulzar Bhat

More than two months after the lockdown began on August 5, editorials and columns about the present political situation are missing in Greater Kashmir, a leading and influential daily published from the valley.

The paper, however, carries full front page government advertisements that talk about the “benefits” of revocation of Article 370. The inside pages are mostly filled with government press releases and reports and rarely about the human rights situation and fallout of an ongoing communications shutdown which has disconnected about seven million people of the valley.

The only opinion piece published in Greater Kashmir in the past two months which talked about the political situation, in fact, argued in favour of the revocation of special status of the state while taking pot shots at critical reports published in reputed publications. The local media, instead of becoming the voice of the voiceless amid the siege, have turned silent, adopting self-censorship to avoid any potential trouble from government.

What does not get covered in the local press speaks louder than what gets published. Almost all prominent local newspapers have avoided publishing editorials and columns on the humanitarian and health crisis in the face of total communications shutdown, leave alone criticising the government for the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent siege.

Although government spokespersons have consistently denied any such crisis in the past two months, there have been multiple reports in international and national press about the health crisis and how patients were unable to even call ambulances and get timely medical treatment due to the continued communications shutdown imposed since August 5.

Every morning Mohammad Zakir, a Kashmiri student studying in Delhi, opens the websites of several Valley based newspapers on his smartphone. He, however, finds the same old stories, pictures and videos he had flipped through more than two months ago. The internet shut down in the Valley has turned the live web editions of the newspapers into “ghost sites”.

Around midnight on August 4, the authorities shut down all communication links in the Valley. The move came eleven hours before Parliament passed the resolution to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two Union Territories.

“We are unable to update our websites,” admitted an online editor of an Urdu newspaper who did not wish to be named. Websites of all leading publications including Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma and Srinagar Times in the Valley have not been updated since August 5.

A journalist at the widely read weekly English magazine Kashmir Life, however, said that the paper had partially begun updating its online edition from October 1. “We update the website from the government-run media centre, but we don’t manage it always,” he said, adding that it is just a “ stop-gap arrangement”. Farhad Nayak, a journalist with Kashmir Images, also informs that his publication has been uploading the e-paper, again from the Media Facilitation Centre opened by the government.

Journalists remain a frustrated lot and complain that they are being forced to rely on official communiques and occasional press conference by people in authority. Journalists, they allege, are being monitored, harassed and humiliated. Several journalists have been publicly thrashed and some of them detained for hours by security forces.

Irfan Amin Malik, a journalist working with Greater Kashmir, was picked up by security forces from his residence in Tral, some 36 kms south of Srinagar. He was released after he signed a bond at the local police station.

Many Kashmiris living outside the Valley have had no contact with their families back home. They look for news and updates from online editions of Kashmir newspapers but generally draw a blank. Javed Ahmad, a Valley-based businessman, said that he barely relied on the national media because “for it every thing is fine in the Valley”.

“It is a great irony that we have no access to information in these times”, he lamented.

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