Journalists have been under threat for long.
Getting hauled up by the police is routine. Getting beaten up by the security forces is usual. Getting caught in the crossfire is a drill. Facing wrath of protestors is expected. This is the life and work of a journalist reporting in and covering Kashmir.
We have survived all this, and more. May be not anymore.
Now. Journalism is under threat. The fourth estate. The pillar of democracy. Not a group or a region or a language. The institution itself is under attack.
The Department of Information is stopping government business in the form of advertisements to newspapers. At random. At will. Without assigning a reason. Or the courtesy of an official communication.
This is done all by word of mouth. Instructions are passed. Implementation is done. No explanations.
In J&K, more so in the valley, where there is hardly any private sector media spend, the loss of government business will jeopardise the financial position of the biggest of newspapers, which already is rather precarious. That is a concern. But it goes beyond that. When leading papers are discriminated by the government by excluding them from government advertisements, which principally are transactional information, it deprives people access to key business information.
What makes the advertisement ban even worse is that it is being executed at a critical time: right ahead of the elections. Another institution of democracy, the Election Commission needs to take note. Their failure to do so, will be the weakening of their own institution.
When democracy was undermined, we reported. When individual liberties were curtailed, we recorded. When human rights were violated, we condemned. When judiciary came under assault, we dissented. When executive was overruled, we opined.
Now they have discovered a way. This time around when they go after any institution, there will be no one to even report or record it. For that is where it is headed. We are not the ultimate targets. The real target is the freedom of expression. Democracy. Not just in Kashmir. What is happening in Kashmir seems like a test case. It will spread to the entire country.
For once we need to talk about ourselves. Otherwise we write about every other institution and individual.