Thomas Jefferson famously remarked on newspapers: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Recently, Srinagar based newspapers , both English and Urdu, published blank front pages on Sunday with a clear message: “In protest against unexplained denial of government advertisements to Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader”. The state Information and Public Relations department has denied advertisements to Kashmir’s two major newspapers – Kashmir Reader and Greater Kashmir, without any official intimation, which directly hit the constitutional guarantees. As far as state information department is concerned, which is a nodal agency to deal with distribution of advertisements of all state government departments, autonomous bodies, public sector enterprises and local bodies, places advertisements in the newspaper published within and outside the state as per the policy of the government.
The primary objective of issuing advertisements by the Government, is to disseminate the required information among the public through medium of the newspapers. The Government advertisements are not meant to provide a measure of financial support to a newspaper. Therefore, it is proposed that circulation of a newspaper and its area of influence would be given due consideration, while distributing advertisements. At the same time, due care is also taken to meet the broad social objectives of the government to promote responsible, constructive and healthy journalism and to encourage small newspapers.
The Government advertisements are issued in a judicious manner to all the local newspapers approved by Information Department for government advertisements without compromising the larger interests of the government and the advertising Department. No quota of advertisements is fixed for any newspaper/category of newspapers, but efforts are taken to maintain equity in the quantum of advertisements released to newspapers falling in a particular category and some sort of parity with newspapers of other categories as far as possible, incorporated in the Rule 7-35 of Jammu and Kashmir Financial Code Vol.I.
According to policy guidelines of the Information Department, only those newspapers shall be approved for advertisements which do not act in a way prejudicial to the unity and integrity of the country/ state and express directly or indirectly lack of faith in or oppose the basic ideals of our country i.e. democracy, socialism and secularism and accession of the state with Union of India, and are not violating the journalistic code as enunciated by the Press Council of India. But irony is that, still the governor administration had not yet forwarded any official intimation for denying the advertisements to these newspapers. The authorities must know that the media is the 4th pillar of democracy.
While choking the voice of press is highly condemnable and has no space in governance, which is directly hitting the Constitutional guarantee and seen as yet another attempt at media coercion. The authorities must come clear on front why the advertisements had been denied, as the onus completely lies on present administration to show an iota of reason. Curtailing the advertisements, which is a backbone of revenue for Srinagar based newspapers, putting every stakeholder in a great dilemma, what is the government saying? The Press Council of India must intervene in the matter, so that the ban is lifted.
—The author, a free lance columnist, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org