Srinagar Media Facilitation Centre, only place in Kashmir reporters can access internet, now off limits for freelancers and web journos

  • Officials at the Srinagar Media Facilitation Centre, the only place which provides internet to reporters in Kashmir, have barred freelancers and those who work for news websites from the premises

  • Reporters, who have been queuing up for hours to use this centre to file stories for the past three months, called this move very unfortunate and irresponsible

  • Journalist Aakash Hassan, who works for News18.com, said he was stopped after he told authorities he was working for a news website

Officials at the Srinagar Media Facilitation Centre, the only place which provides internet to reporters in Kashmir, have barred freelancers and those who work for news websites from the premises.

 Srinagar Media Facilitation Centre, only place in Kashmir reporters can access internet, now off limits for freelancers and web journos

In October, journalists in Kashmir protested against the communication blackout. Getty images

Reporters, who have been queuing up here for hours to file stories for the past three months, called this move very unfortunate and irresponsible. "It's unfortunate that the authorities are barring journalists from performing their activities,"said a journalist working for a national web portal.

Reporters working for various weekly magazines were also stopped when they came in early Sunday. “They stopped me at the entrance when I told them I'd come to update the website," said another reporter, who works for local weekly magazine, on condition of anonymity.

Journalist Aakash Hassan, who works for News18.com, said he was stopped after he told authorities he was working for a news website. “They stopped me near the entrance and told me me I wasn't allowed as I work with an online portal. I asked for two minutes to check my mail.”

Hassan described the experience as an "utter humiliation" that has now become routine. Speaking to Firstpost, Hassan said the voices of journalists are being muzzled in Kashmir indirectly. 'This might be my last tweet, as I am being barred to use internet in media centre  [sic].," he wrote in a tweet.

For the past three months, reporters across Kashmir have had to rely on the internet provided by the government at this centre. Reporters have to wait hours in queue to send their photos or stories to their respective organisations or send it forward via pen drives. They aren't allowed to use the internet for more than a half hour. The centre was initially at the Hotel Sarovar, near UN office, but was shifted to a small, single room in the Department of Information and Public Relations in Srinagar.

“Is this any way to treat someone?” wondered a reporter who pointed out that there was no space for journalists even to sit in the room. “A freelancer outside Kashmir is respected, but this is how we are treated here.”

The reporters said a few days ago, officials decided to check their identity cards before allowing them to enter. “Who will make them understand that freelancers don’t have identity cards?” a freelance reporter queried. For the past three days, when the Valley has seen heavy snowfall, internet at the centre has been working only for a few hours.

Officials said they are powerless and that reporters should work within the time allotted to them. None of the reporters were willing to speak on the record for fear of reprisal.

After 5 August, when Central government scrapped article 370, and 35A (which gave state special rights), and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two union territories, internet and communication lines have been snapped in Kashmir. The Central government set up this centre for journalists to work out of a week later.

Last month, Kashmir journalists protested against the communication blackout, and marched from the press club to the press club enclave. They carried placards that read "free us from media facilitation centre” and "free communication gag." Journalists from multiple media outlets described the blockade of the internet and mobile phones as a gag on their functioning and demanded that the government restore internet and mobile connectivity.

In a joint statement, journalists said, "We are unable to cover assignments due to the prevailing communication gag imposed by the government. In the absence of internet and broadband services, local newspapers have not been able to upload their internet editions or update the news on the web portals.”

The government in August restored landlines and in October restored postpaid connections, but there is no word on when pre-paid connections and internet will be restored.

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Updated Date: Nov 11, 2019 20:15:53 IST