By A Aalim Ahmad
Srinagar: The government on Friday declined to roll back the advertisement policy for the newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir but assured to re-examine it for corrective measures.
The opposition members described the policy, implemented during the Governor’s rule, as a tool to suppress newspapers and the freedom of press.
Speaking on behalf of the Chief Minister who holds the information portfolio, education minister Naeem Akhtar said the stakeholders of the newspaper industry have approached the government with representations, seeking withdrawal of certain clauses of the news advertisement policy, 2016.
“The representations are being looked into and wherever corrective measures are required, they will be taken,” Akhtar said.
Mubarak Gul raised the question on behalf of Davinder Rana, and several opposition and ruling party legislators highlighted the lacunae in the news advertisement policy and demanded its roll back in the interest of newspapers.
Akhtar said the draft advertisement policy was approved by the State Administrative Council (SAC) after deliberations on Mach 4, 2016.
“There has been a rapid increase in the number of newspaper publications in the state and it was felt appropriate to revise the benchmarks for considering the newspapers for issuance of advertisements,” Akhtar said, adding the old advertisement policy was issued in the year 1996.
He said the draft policy was put to the public domain on the website seeking comments from all stakeholders and the policy was adopted after examining the representations.
“Representations received from the stakeholders are being examined,” he said.
Gul accused the government of hoodwinking and using the advertisement policy to suppress the freedom of press. “There is a political agenda behind the implementation of this policy. It is a ploy to curb the freedom of press,” Gul said.
On this Akhtar said that he should have replied the question in Urdu because the member has not understood his reply in English that clearly mentioned that the policy was implemented by the SAC, which is a constitutional authority. The reply infuriated Gul and several other members who accused Akhtar of insulting the member on his understanding of languages.
Akhtar dispelled the notion that the advertisement policy is detrimental to the growth of the fourth estate. “The policy has been devised to further strengthen the growth of healthy journalism in the state,” he said, adding due care has been taken to safeguard the interests of the small and medium newspapers particularly of vernacular medium.
He said J&K is amongst the “rare states in the country” where the advertisement rates are uniform for every newspaper irrespective of the circulation figures.
“This in itself is a tremendous advantage to the small and medium newspapers,” he said.
Legislator and BJP state president Sat Sharma also asked the government to examine possibilities of revising the advertisement policy. “The government must take the issue seriously and examine if the policy can be discussed afresh,” he said.
Mubarak Gul proposed setting up of a House Committee for the purpose but it was agreed by the government.
Maxist legislator MY Tarigami said that state-run corporations were issuing advertisements to the newspapers on DAVP rates but this practice has been stopped by the government. Naeem Akhtar said that the corporations were under constant budget strain and it was not possible for them to spend huge amounts on advertisements. “We will try to strike a balance so that interests of newspapers and the corporations are safeguarded,” he said.
Congress legislature party leader Nawang Rigzin Jora cautioned the government against issuing threats to the media. “I am suggesting to the government not to issue threats to the media. If it is possible, the government must roll back the advertisement policy,” Jora said.
Waqar Rasool Wani of the Congress ridiculed the government’s policy to deny advertisements to unapproved newspapers. “There are newspapers waiting in queue for several years for the release of government advertisements. They write well and their circulation is fine but the government is denying them their share,” he said.
Akhtar said that approval of news newspapers was also a concern with the government and it being looked into.