The Jammu and Kashmir government has withdrawn its advertisements from two prominent Kashmiri dailies without giving any reason. Greater Kashmir, the state’s largest circulated English daily, its sister publications and Kashmir Reader, another prominent English daily, have stopped receiving advertisements from the state information department for the past five days. The latter’s publication was banned for nearly five months in 2017 by the state government.
“The orders have come from higher-ups. We are here to merely execute them,” a top officer in the state’s information department, requesting anonymity, said. Asked whether the two dailies were served any notice or order on suspension of advertisements, the officer replied in negative. “These were verbal orders.” The Governor's Office refused to comment. A senior member of the staff said, “We have no information about this issue and will look into it.”
The suspension of government advertisements to the two dailies sparked concerns on the freedom of press in a region which has seen protests and a sweeping military crackdown on militants for the past three years. Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted:
For reasons best known to him, the Guvs admin in J&K has gone beyond its brief & is in no mood to step back. The decision to stop giving ads to local newspapers GK & Kashmir Reader is a punitive measure to force them into submission. Are they trying to stifle free press?
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 22, 2019
Omar Abdullah trained his guns at the Centre on Twitter: “In a classic case of shooting the messenger the state government is reported to have blocked Greater Kashmir newspaper group from any government advertisements. If true, I’m not sure what this move is meant to achieve other than to create a pliant, subservient media.”
Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) — a conglomerate of Valley-based newspaper owners and editors — released a statement calling the decision a “deliberate strangulation and subversion” of the institution of media in Jammu and Kashmir.
“At a time when the democracy is in suspension, the KEG is seeking the attention of the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild of India to exercise their legal, ethical and professional mandate to intervene in the issue and ensure that the media in one of the most sensitive states is not strangulated. The guild decided to move the council and involve the Editors Guild of India,” the KEG statement read.
The decision sparked anxiety in the newspaper employees. Many journalists see this as a “vindictive” attempt to choke the media, which has been reporting on the unfolding situation in Kashmir “without taking any sides.”
“Every time there is crisis in Kashmir, the governments target the local media which has been objectively reporting on the situation. It is a wrong and unjustified move which indicates that the government may be up to something big in coming days,” Naseer Ganai, Kashmir Bureau chief, Outlook, said. A senior journalist at Greater Kashmir who did not wish to be named said, “It is the fallout of the Pulwama attack. Like separatists have been stripped of security, we have been stripped of advertisements.”
“We are one of the largest newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir and the biggest beneficiaries of government advertisements. It feels like we are an extension of information department. But despite that, we are soft targets,” another journalist of Greater Kashmir, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
Haji Mohammad Hayat, 47, the owner of Kashmir Reader, said that for the past three days the paper has stopped receiving advertisements from the government. “There is no written order,” Hayat said. “But sources told me it was a top officer in the state’s home department who ordered the information department to stop giving advertisements to two newspapers.”
Hayat said this is the fifth time in eight years that the government has stopped placing advertisements in his paper. “It is a carrot and a stick policy. But I was never deterred by this and we never stopped compromising on the truth. They want you to toe the government line on issues which compromise the sanctity of journalism,” Hayat said.
Despite repeated attempts, Greater Kashmir owner Fayaz Kaloo could not be reached for comment. Kashmir Reader has around 80 employees, but is not completely dependent on government advertisement, which is the case with the majority of newspapers published from Srinagar. “When revenue decreases, there is going to be a crisis. Many newspapers report in a way to avoid drawing cudgels of the government,” Hayat said. “I really want to understand what type of reporting we've done this time that they stopped giving us advertisements.”
Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 16:47:02 IST