Persecuting the Press

There have been as many as twenty-seven attacks on media-persons in Jammu and Kashmir over the past three years. This persecution of the press has also drawn a sharp reaction from the chief of the Press Council of India who wrote to the Chief Minister expressing dismay over what he termed as use of force against journalists performing their professional duties.  This was not an ordinary letter, reflect as it did the state government’s failure to allow the news media to flourish, but hardly anything changed.

Journalists continue to be manhandled by personnel of various security agencies. On Thursday, uniformed personnel beat to pulp five newsmen discharging their professional duties in South Kashmir. Two of the victims sustained injuries and had to be rushed to hospital for first aid.  Their vehicles were also damaged to safeguard `national interest.’

The onslaught on the media started during the budget session of the Legislative Assembly in 2010. For the first time three breach of privilege notices were issued against journalists in a single session. Noted journalist, Ahmad Ali Fayaz’s disclosures about a National Conference leader in the February 28 issue of the Early Times surprised one and all.  Fayaz was directed to explain his position.  Soon after, renowned cartoonist of the state and editor of the Srinagar Times, Bashir Ahmad Bashir, was also summoned to Jammu for similar reasons. He had published a cartoon in his daily depicting `sad state of affairs’ in the Legislative Assembly. Bashir was in high spirits and raring to go to Jammu to defend his cartoon.  But later, he was told that his presence on the floor of the house was not required.

Another respected editor, R S Gill, had to appear before the speaker to defend a breach of privilege motion against him. Gill also stood by his story `Best Legislator v/s Upright Principal’ published in The Northlines on March 25, 2010. And who can forget the onslaught on the Early Times in July 2010? Its press was sealed, the editor’s residence raided and the Chief Minister’s most trusted lieutenant misused his official position to muzzle its voice.  He engaged the land mafia to grab land owned by the Early Times editor.

Curiously, NC leaders have been boasting of the `sacrifices; offered by the party to uphold the freedom of the press. But the breach of privilege notices reflect that the legislature has grown increasingly intolerant during Omar Abdullah’s regime. Security agencies, it seems, have been given a free hand to muzzle the press. But state’s journalistic fraternity is determined to bring the truth to fore. As they say, truth always prevails.