Media’s plight in J&K

Geelani has put his finger at the right place but why is the PCI turning a blind eye towards Establishment’s intimidating tacticsMedia circles in particular and public in general would welcome Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s forthright statement decrying veiled threats to journalists in Kashmir from unidentified militant outfits. Upholding the professional duty of the media to inform, comment and criticise, the veteran leader acknowledged that, by and large, the media in the state, particularly in the troubled Kashmir Valley, had been discharging its professional obligations satisfactorily against heavy odds. He urged all concerned to show respect and due tolerance towards media criticism and refrain from pressure tactics to overawe mediapersons. It is no secret that the media in the state has been facing extraneous pressures, not only from some militant groups but also from the ruling establishment. Indeed, the governmental pressure continues to be mounting to the extent of choking dissent. Public resources available for objective distribution are being used with brazen partiality and with unconcealed attempt to subdue criticism and promote sychophancy. This is one side of the coin, so to say.

The other side is the pressures put on the media from non-state actors. In both cases the motivating factor is the same: To intimidate and terrorise into submission. Because the trend has remained literally unchallenged the situation looks to be going from bad to worse, notwithstanding restoration of near-normalcy after two successive good (politically free) assembly elections since 2002. The media in the state continues to be under the tight leash of pressures, so much so that even some constitutional institutions, supposed to be guardians of democracy and constitutional freedoms, feel tempted to go after the media. Personal and partisan prejudices have been and continue to be given a free play against media functioning. If still the media has been able to discharge its professional obligations the credit goes to the men and women braving these odds and responding to the call of their profession.

Geelani’s sane advice to media-baiters could not have come at a more appropriate time. Restoration of near-normalcy on the ground is yet to reflect itself in the change of mindset of the state apparatus as well as non-state actors. Primarily, this type of negative mindset originates from intolerance for dissent and criticism without which democracy and democratic process are reduced to a farce. As pointed out by the octogenarian separatist leader, the media needs to be allowed its freedom to report and analyse day-to-day happenings and also to comment upon major developments and performance of public personalities. Credibility of the message conveyed by the media suffers badly if it is allowed to be influenced by illegitimate pressures and coercive tactics. There is, however, no doubt that, like in any other sphere of our public life, the media world also has its share of genuine and non-genuine professionals.

There are a number of journalists who have had to pay with their lives for upholding their professional freedom. And also there are those who have chosen to position themselves at the opposite end of this game. Pressure tactics employed to ‘discipline’ inconvenient mediapersons are not limited to physical threat. In these days of highly commercial era, coupled with mounting cost of media technology, denial of due support (from legitimately allocated public funds) amounts to gagging the voice of journalists and emaciating their publications.

These tactics have the same effect—if not worse—as that emanating from the threats of physical liquidation of journalists from non-state actors. In both cases, the attempt is to make the media fall in line or..

The tragedy is that unlike in other parts of India, such happenings rarely—if at all—attract the attention of related national institutions like the Press Council of India (PCI). So far, the PCI has allowed itself to view the scenario only through the eyes of the state apparatus. There is no instance of its suo moto intervention to undo the wrongs which media and media persons in J&K continue to suffer