SRINAGAR: Under the garb of holding peaceful municipal elections, police and polling staff at many polling stations have imposed restrictions on journalists to prevent reporting of the conduct of elections.
The restrictions, which have been put in place without any written order, have prevented journalists from gathering details of voting figures, identifying polling booths, and knowing the identity of candidates contesting the elections.
“I have never been stopped by anyone in the past from covering the elections, as long as I carried the authority letter. The exercise of blocking journalists leaves the elections uncovered. What sort of elections are these in which you don’t even know the candidate? It is a mockery,” said Parvaiz Bukhari, a senior journalist.
“In previous elections we would have details about the polling booths, details of candidates which included their educational, social, and monetary profile. This time, such details are neither available on the election commission’s website nor shared by polling staff,” said another senior journalist who has covered elections many times in the past.
Since the first phase of municipal elections was held, journalists have been facing problems in covering it. Profiles of candidates largely remain absent as only a few have dared to come out in public.
One such episode occurred on Saturday at the Shahi Hamdan community centre, where multiple polling booths for Ward Khankah-e-Moula were set up. The polling staff there refused to even disclose the voter turnout. A reporter asked for details of candidates contesting from the ward, but was denied the information. A policeman even asked reporters to leave the station because he had been told to not allow entry of media persons. The ballot paper, which is mandatory to be put on the notice board, was missing from the spot.
“The cop called his boss who told him not to allow entry (of media persons). He later told us to wait outside, latched the gate, and left. He even reprimanded the police personnel deployed there for allowing us entry,” said a journalist.
The same sequence was witnessed at a polling station in downtown Srinagar during the second phase of elections. Here, a police officer ordered journalists out, even though the journalists had passes issued by the chief election commissioner.
Earlier, the election commission had given instructions to keep the identity of candidates secret, but no instruction was given to bar journalists from reporting.
J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra did not respond to phone calls from this newspaper.