Critics are denouncing new media laws in Jammu and Kashmir State as measures to suppress government criticism. They also argue that the laws violate the country’s constitution.
India announced the new policy last month. It empowers officials to accredit the reporters and news organizations it considers acceptable. It also permits Indian officials to declare what is “false” news, and what are “incitements” against the government.
Kashmir and Jammu has been under tight controls for almost a year. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seized powers from the state government following fighting between Kashmiris and security forces. Thousands of people have been arrested in that period, including members of the press. The government also has severely restricted internet service in the area.
“Those 2G services are also shut down at least once or twice a week under the pretext of militant encounters or COVID-19,” says Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmiri human rights and international law expert.
The new media policy targets Kashmir only. It gives the Department of Information and Public Relations the power to legally accuse media organizations and their employees of misinformation, fake news, plagiarism and anti-national activities.
Reporters and news groups accused of such wrongdoing can face a loss of accreditation and money from advertisers.
Srinagar-based reporter Gowhar Geelani told VOA the policy makes the DIPR, “the judge, jury and the executioner, “ and leads to self-censorship.
Geelani and other reporters have been charged with “glorifying terrorism in the Kashmir Valley” and putting anti-national material on social media in recent months. They believe those charges will result in a denial of their accreditation.
VOA asked the Jammu and Kashmir state public relations director for comment on the new rules. The official did not answer the email.
The government says it enacted the measures to stop Pakistani attempts to damage peace and security in Jammu and Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of aiding terrorism in the state. Pakistan denies the accusations.
The new policy began in May. The DIPR says it will consider media protests about its decisions.
Several reporters said they were worried about the accreditation process, which includes investigations by security forces.
News organizations need accreditation to be able to publish legally and to receive government advertising contracts, a large part of their financial security.
The Indian government stopped advertisements to at least three large newspaper groups last year. Critics called the move likely “retaliation” for critical reports about the government.
Shuja ul Haq is president of the Kashmir Press Club. He said that permitting government officials to judge media reports as acceptable or unacceptable violates the constitutional right of free expression.
Reporters in Kashmir already face COVID-19 and internet restrictions, says Srinagar-based reporter Bilal Hussain.
"This new policy has made me to think tens of times before writing,” he said.
I’m Susan Shand.
VOA’s Iala Mohammad reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
2G - adj. the second generation of internet speed
pretext - n. an excuse for doing something
encounter - v. to meet a person or to find a situation
plagarism - n. to steal the writing of another person
censorship - n. government imposed restrictions on what can be written
glorify - v. to make something seem grand or important
retaliation - n. to act against someone in response to their first action