Gagging the media Freedom of press is being curtailed in both overt and covert manners

By saying that the media in the country has “neither been gagged nor can be gagged” chief minister Omar Abdullah has betrayed his ignorance about the manner in which the freedom of press in India in general and Jammu and Kashmir in particular has been curbed in several ways, both overt and covert, from time to time. Contrary to its claims of being the largest democratic country in the world, the freedom of expression, particularly the freedom of the press, has faced several curbs in varying degrees in India from time to time, direct and indirect curbs to make the media toe the official line and total censorship and other curbs during the Emergency to make the media crawl before the establishment.

In fact those at the helm, who swore by the freedom of the press, started moves to tame and even control the media soon after the promulgation of Constitution when they incorporated a proviso to Article 19 (i) of the Constitution so as to clothe government with powers to curb the freedom of press in the name of the security of the state. Such curbs have been imposed on the media from time to time in the name of national interests. Indira Gandhi made persistent attempt to gag the media after 1969, particularly after the clamping of black Emergency in 1975 when pre-censorship was imposed, a number of independent journalists critical of the Emergency were jailed, several publications were banned and the media was made to bend before the establishment in several other ways. The Prevention of Objectionable Mater Act 1975 was another anti-press law which was blatantly misused to gag the press and silence the voice of dissent.

While the ownership pattern of the media, with corporate world and influential businessmen controlling the media, both print and electronic, poses a big threat to the press freedom, the governments at the Centre have used the advertisements as a weapon to promote pro-government media and curb the critical one. The policy of inducements and victimization has been pursued from time to time by the successive regimes at the Centre and in the states. The recent moves to impose curbs on the electronic and social media in several ways including the issuing of advisories are all steps in the direction of gagging the media. The governments have followed policies which have resulted in the corporate world, including the foreign establishments, to fully control the media and marginalize the independent press managed by the committed journalists.

The successive regimes in Jammu and Kashmir have adopted several methods to curb the press freedom and ensure only a friendly media which could act as a force multiplier for the establishment in curbing people’s democratic rights, resorting to unabashed corruption and other acts of omission and commission. Till 1967 the State had its own Press Act which was draconian in nature and prevented the growth of free press. While the restricted law made it difficult for any independent person to start his newspaper, it also armed the state with blanket powers to curb the freedom of press.. It was only after the extension of the central Press and Registration of Books Act that the number of newspapers increased in the State though still the media faced a number of curbs in various ways. The independent media, critical of the establishment, was not only denied advertisements but also deprived of various other facilities to pursue their professional duties. The pro-government media was provided several inducements including advertisements, other facilities, awards etc. Several attempts were made to gag the media and this included the black Press Act by the government headed by Sheikh Abdullah, That black law was withdrawn after the journalists struggled against the Act forcing the government to withdraw it. Again Farooq Abdullah as chief minister came out with a similar law to curb the press freedom which had to be withdrawn when the journalists fraternity struggled against it and the Press Council of India had to intervene. The state government advertisements have been invariably used to promote pro-government media and punish the independent media organizations.

The present government headed by Omar Abdullah is also pursuing the same policy of carrot and sticks to make the media fall in line and to curb the freedom of press. The curbs placed on local TV channels on a number of occasions, particularly in 2010, and moves to control the social media during the past few years do not demonstrate the rulers faith in the freedom of the press. The manner in which the government resources including the advertisements are being used to promote the friendly media and eliminate the critical section of the press, are clear signs of gagging the media by misusing power and resources by those at the helm. The basic attitude of those in power has been one of wanting the media to conform.