Updated: January 21, 2022 10:07:25 am
Since August 5, 2019, the Jammu & Kashmir administration has invited accusations that it was attempting to subdue the media in the Valley by various methods, including the use of harsh laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Public Security Act against individual journalists. Now, as revealed by a shabby sequence of events last weekend, it would seem the government also wants to handpick its own nominees to run the Kashmir Press Club, the largest association of journalists in the Valley — or else, the chilling message is, the club would not be allowed to function.
On January 15, a group of Valley journalists “took over” the KPC premises, and declared itself the interim committee that would henceforth manage the affairs of the KPC. This came two days after the KPC’s outgoing committee had announced that it would hold elections for new office-bearers in mid-February. The government re-registered the club in December 2021 under the new laws that took effect in 2019, paving the way for holding the election. However, the day after the election date was announced, it abruptly withdrew the club’s registration certificate, saying it was being kept in abeyance “on the basis of a report on the antecedents” of the managing committee received from the state CID. It has sought to project the fracas as the result of factionalism, and has taken back the premises allotted to the club, declaring the interim body as “infructuous”.
Press clubs are places where journalists gather and expect to be helped and supported by colleagues, especially when they come under attack for carrying out their professional duties. The KPC was a place where young journalists gathered to find solidarity in what has been a trying period for the media in the Valley. It was also perhaps the rare journalists’ association in J&K that gave voice to concerns about the attempts to muzzle the media in Kashmir. As with any club, there were those who supported the committee and others who opposed it. If this was a faction war, the government is yet to explain what its own stakes were in it that impelled it to send already stretched security forces to assist one group against the other. If the government is in possession of “adverse” reports against members of the outgoing committee, it must make clear what they say, instead of smearing by innuendo. Till then, it must restore the premises to the KPC and allow fresh elections to be held as planned.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 21, 2022 under the title ‘A shabby move’.
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