A month after the 5 August abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the continuing shutdown of communication in the Kashmir valley has resulted in the throttling of independent media. As journalists continue to face severe restrictions in all the processes of news-gathering, verification and dissemination, the free flow of information has been blocked, leaving in its wake a troubled silence that bodes ill for freedom of expression and media freedom.
In this, the latest and most intense phase in the ongoing conflict on Kashmir, the government of India has pulled out all the stops – political, legislative, militaristic and punitive. It has detained and arrested scores of people, including leaders of mainstream political parties. No other democratic government has attempted a communication blockade of this scale in Kashmir.
In an effort to determine the impact of the severe crackdown on communication on the media in Kashmir, a two-member team from the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) and the Free Speech Collective (FSC) spent five days in the Valley between 30 August and 3 September. The team spoke* to more than 70 journalists, correspondents and editors of newspapers and news-sites in Srinagar and South Kashmir, members of the local administration and citizens.
Key findings : Curbs on the media and its implications
- Surveillance, informal ‘investigations’ and harassment of journalists who publish reports considered adverse to the government or security force
- Blockade of verifiable information from the ground
- Restrictions on mobility in select areas including hospitals
- Controls on facilities available for print publication
- Three journalists reporting for international and credible national media who have been allotted government quarters, received verbal directions to vacate
- Restrictions despite no official curfew, no official notification for the shutdown
- Landlines are working only in certain areas but not in the press enclave, which houses most of the newspaper offices
- The inability to respond to playbacks and queries from editors on email and phone, especially regarding fact-checks, has meant that stories cannot be carried in the national media
- A clear ‘unofficial’ directive regarding what is permissible content.
- Absence of the editorial voice in major newspapers in Kashmir; instead, editorials on ‘soft’ subjects such as vitamin consumption
- Lack of safety for women journalists
- The throttling of independent media, endangering both media freedom as well as impacting employment of working journalists
- Government control of the narrative of normalcy and proclamations over the creation of a ‘Naya Kashmir
- Silencing and invisibilisation of the voices from Kashmir expressing anger over perceived breach of trust, alienation and disillusionment.