Terming the new media policy announced by the J&K administration on June 2 a “remnant of colonial era censorship”, mainstream political parties in the Union Territory on Wednesday called it an “assault on freedom of speech” and asked for its immediate rollback.
The policy gives the administration powers to decide what is “fake”, “unethical” or “anti-national” news, and to take legal action against the journalist or media organisation concerned, including stopping government advertisements and sharing of information via security agencies. The policy also makes security clearance mandatory for the accreditation of journalists.
Demanding the rollback of the policy, National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said, “Such anti-democratic gags will obstruct the dissemination of free and fair press. It is also an infringement of the people’s right to information… Democracies are not supposed to fight opposing narratives by gagging its media. We denounce it in unequivocal terms.”
Dar added, “The new media policy obliquely stifles the media’s right to ask tough questions and highlight lacunae in the working of administration… the new policy will choke the already constrained space for the free working of press”.
The party said that a “watchdog in the shape of the Press Council of India and similar other bodies adjudicate and regulate press under the Press Council Act of 1978”.
The PDP called it a step towards “absolute censorship” of the press in Jammu and Kashmir. “One step closer to absolute censorship. Media is as much vital part of democracy as any other institution. This ‘character certificate’ business for journalism fraternity is another instrument to stifle the voice of J&K,” the party tweeted.
The People’s Conference led by Sajad Lone said it is a “new low” and will “herald the darkest era of curbing press freedom”.
“The new media policy is plain censorship where the government defines the ethics of journalism. Government wants to see reality not as it exists but as it wants to see it exist,” said party spokesperson Adnan Ashraf Mir. “The policy gives them (government) the power to decide what is fake and unethical. And no prizes for guessing, anything remotely true or critical of the government will be categorised as fake or anti-national news. That is the new normal. Fake news is an alibi to actually herald the era of customised fake news.”
Mir said, “In Kashmir, this law will be at its coercive best and will be utilised to further mute the muted… They are formally recognising what they have been doing informally.”