Chapter 9: Media in the Kashmir Valley
The Press in the
valley is at the mercy of the militants. Correspondents of national dailies
who tried to be objective have been beaten up .and driven out of Kashmir.
Any journalist who does not faithfully report the utterances of the leaders
of the various militant outfits, almost all of it propaganda, has to face
One of the popular Urdu dailies published from Srinagar, the
Aftab, decided to close down on September 10, 1993, following
a directive from Jamait-Ul- Mujahideen, a pro-Pakistan outfit, asking the
editor of the paper to appear before it within one week.
Earlier, on August 31, 1993 the house of the founder
editor of the paper, Sanaullah Butt, was gutted. The surmise is that the
fire which destroyed the one-storeyed house of the editor in Soura was
the handiwork of the militant group which had summoned him.
During recent times, other papers have come under
militant attack, the common allegation being that they have been writing
"anti-movement" reports. The problem is that different groups perceive
"anti-movement" in different ways. For instance, there was a spate of incidents
after one group, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was credited with
having issued a statement substituting "self rule" for "independence" as
the goal of the movement in the Valley.
When the report was published, the chief of
Inayatullah Andrabi, issued a statement condemning it in strong terms.
The statement was published in the Srinagar Times which earned the wrath
of the Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front which imposed a ban
on the paper; the Srinagar Times suspended publication forthwith (August
28 1993). The coordination committee of working journalists met in Srinagar
and decided not to publish controversial statements issued by rival militant
organizations. Following the decision the Urdu daily Al Safa did not publish
the statement sent to it by Andrabi. The result was that the office of
Al Safa was attacked on August 30. The militants ransacked the press and
broke the furniture the television and telephone.
Earlier in August the militant organizations had
also banned Greater Kashmir the only English daily published from the Valley
for writing an "anti- movement" report. The paper resumed publication after
12 days. The Srinagar Times resumed publication on September 11, 1993.
One or the early victims in the print media was
the editor of the Urdu daily Al Safa. A highly respected person the editor
Mohammed Shaban Vakil, was shot dead in his office on April 23, 1991. A
powerful explosion damaged the printing press of the daily Aftab on November
4, 1990. The other victim of militant anger was Srinagar Times edited by
Sofi Ghulam Mohammed. An explosion took place at the Dal Gate residence
of the editor on October 2, 1990.
Al safa voiced the problems faced by the media
in Srinagar when it said: "During the last four years militancy has affected
all shades of public life in the Valley. The Press had also to see ups
and downs during these years. At times journalists had to hear unbecoming
treatment at the hands of the government and at times militant outfits
burnt copies of newspapers broke the furniture and humiliated journalists...
Local newspapers and correspondents have had to suffer more at the hands
of those other than the government. Publication of newspapers has been
banned at will and their copies burnt by militants... statements about
clashes between different militant outfits have been a source of great
anxiety for local journalists. If the length of the statement of one organization
exceeded that of the other outfit the paper had to hear the onslaught.
The profession of journalism has been tied in chains and anybody who tries
to break the chains could be sentenced to death."
The targets of attack are not only newspapers
in Srinagar but also other media. The newsrooms of All India Radio and
Doordarshan are under constant threat. The casual newsreaders of the electronic
media have been asked to dissociate themselves from voicing the programs
and reading the bulletins. An assistant news editor of All India Radio
in Srinagar was beaten up by militants and the assistant news editor of
the Television station was abducted and released a week later after a thorough
drubbing The news staff have still not forgotten that the director of Doordarshan
(Television) in Srinagar, Lassa Koul, was killed by the militants in February
1990. This was followed by the killing of an assistant director of the
State Information Department (SID), P. N. Handoo, and the SID joint director,
Syed Ghulam Nabi.
Several corespondents representing national newspapers
left Srinagar in early 1990. Some of the correspondents are now operating
from Jammu and some have returned to their headquarters with their papers
deciding not to post a permanent correspondent in the militant dictated
atmosphere in Kashmir. Following the murder of Lassa Koul the news rooms
of All India Radio and Doordarshan were shifted to New Delhi and Jammu
respectively in 1990; the newsrooms shifted back to Srinagar only in 1993.
Newspapers published from Jammu and elsewhere
and correspondents posted in the State have also suffered at the hands
of the militants at one time or another. For a time the entry into the
Valley of the Jammu-based papers Excelsior and Kashmir Times was banned
by the Hizbul Mujahideen. Sunday the weekly published from Calcutta was
the target of militant ire for sometime and one of its correspondents was
banned from entering the Valley. So was the correspondent of the Indian
Express. For a while the Wahadat-e-Islami prohibited the entry of the BBC
bureau chief in India, Mark Tully, into the Valley.
Hizbul Mujahideen one of the militant outfits
has directed that statements of Kashmiri leaders like Dr. Farooq Abdullah
and Ghulam Rasool Kar should not be published. The militants have also
directed the Press that no suggestion should be made in the media that
the Kashmir issue could be settled through negotiations. When newspapers
sought to disregard the code explanations were called for and bans were
The language Press in the Valley is the focus
of attention of the militants. Facing the gun, it has little choice except
to publish distorted and exaggerated stories. Stringers controlled by the
militants put out colorful and doctored reports which are a travesty of
the truth. The people in the Valley who would rather believe what is printed
in the local Press rather than the news put out by All India Radio and
Doordarshan get worked up by the provocative militant- inspired writings
and often come out in the streets to stage protest demonstrations. The
foreign media which often has a problem understanding the nuances and background
then project the demonstrations as a reflection of the spontaneous support
of the people for the militants and secession. This is the chain reaction
sought to be achieved. The diabolical hand of Pakistan is behind this orchestrated
campaign against India. Disinformation, false reports and rumors are floated
by militants and these are forced on the local media. This is for instance
what happened in 1991 when charges of excesses, atrocities, torture, arson,
rape and loot were hurled against the Army which had been called out to
aid civil power in Kashmir in Kunan - Poshpora.
The Army not wanting its honor and dignity sullied,
complained to the Press Council of India and asked for an independent,
impartial enquiry. The Press Council appointed a committee which went to
Kashmir, visited the various sites of action and interviewed a large number
of people - villagers, men and women, police and medical officers, judicial
and administrative officers, journalists and Army personnel of all ranks.
After its investigation the committee produced an extensive well-documented
report in June 1991.
The conclusion of the committee was that the assumption
that the security forces had been given a free hand to "wreak vengeance
on a rebellious and anti- national population is totally unsubstantiated".
The committee concluded that "all things considered" the Indian Army had
"emerged with honor". The committee investigated a number of media stories
presenting "human right excesses against the Indian Army in Kashmir" and
found them "grossly exaggerated and invented". Thus the committee remarked
that human rights activists and organizations "must continue their watchdog
role in Kashmir but they need to be more cautious about publicizing their
findings". The committee warned that for some militant groups in Kashmir
"it is a jehad with martyrdom awaiting those who lose their lives. And
they have two weapons .... guns and words. With the gun they threaten the
physical existence of the opponents while their propaganda is aimed at
the minds of men".
Some newspapers have had the courage on occasion
to write boldly. The Urdu daily Al Safa of Srinagar, commenting on the
destruction of schools, colleges and professional teaching institutions
by the pro-Pakistan militant organizations, questioned (in the December
11 1990 issue) whether the government of Pakistan would reconstruct the
schools, offices, bridges, hospitals and other national assets which had
been destroyed by their agents? Also quoting the Pakistani Press the paper
said that thousands of villages in Pakistan were without electricity and
in the interior of the Sindh province roads barely existed.
An indication of the exasperation of the Press
in Srinagar is provided by the statement issued by the Kashmir Editors
Conference on November 14, 1992, which said that the members of the Conference
unanimously decided not to entertain "uncalled for and purposeless" bans
imposed by militant organizations on the publication of newspapers in the
Kashmir Valley. The decision to defy the ban was taken at an extraordinary
meeting of the Conference following the reported ban on the daily, Aftab,
imposed by one of the militant organizations. The Conference decided that
if a ban is imposed on any newspaper it will be considered a ban on the
publication of all newspapers associated with the Conference.
The Press Council of India appointed a Committee
in December 1993 to examine the threats faced by the media. After visiting
the Valley and holding extensive discussions with the media persons and
officials, the Committee concluded that there was an overwhelming fear
of the militants over all sections of society. The press and the electronic
media are under constant threat of bans arson violence abductions of employees
and their families bomb attacks and killings. The Committee recommended
better security arrangements and action against erring newspapers.
It is true that the Press has to guard its freedom
zealously and should brook no interference from the government in a democracy.
A subservient Press will sound the death-knell of democracy. But in a situation
as it prevails in the Valley when the militant organizations are forcing
newspapers to toe their line at the point of a gun where is the freedom
of the Press and who is to guarantee it?