The New Media Policy of the Jammu & Kashmir administration resembles 1984 in its 53 pages of rules and regulations on what is news, the setting up of a mechanism for “monitoring” of fake news, conditions newspapers need to meet in order to be empanelled and under what circumstances they will be “de-empanelled”. The J&K Directorate of Information and Public Relations may not have George Orwell’s vocabulary but the framers of this policy have managed to provide a remarkably clear picture of the media they want — journalists and news organisations answerable not to their readers, nor even to their editors, but to government bureaucrats and security officials, who will have the powers to decide which news item is fake or “anti-national”; and with these determinations, to further decide the economic viability of a newspaper through the carrots and sticks of government advertisements. Officials will sit in judgement on journalistic ethics and issues of plagiarism. All this for building “a genuinely positive image of the government based on performance”, and to “build public trust” and “increase public understanding about the Government’s roles and responsibilities”. In case anyone missed it, a Goebbelsian reminder is provided under the separate sub-head of “Repetition”: “Wherever possible a repetitive schedule shall be devised for placement of important information to ensure it receives public consideration”.
Clearly, the J&K administration’s ideas of democratic governance are very different from what the Constitution of India promises. Though the government talks of bringing “equality” to the people of the former state, its heavy-handed approach has ensured that the people of J&K have not yet been given the opportunity to voice their opinion on the August 5, 2019 decision to strip the erstwhile state of its special status under Article 370, and bifurcate it into two union territories. Political leaders were jailed and a former chief minister is still under house arrest. The internet has still not been restored to its full strength. Restrictions on the media ensured that there was no first draft of history from the ground. At a time when democratic political voices remain missing in J&K, the “new media policy” is a further affront, intended to keep control of the narrative of J&K.
An indication of the “new normal” for journalism in and about J&K that the government wants to create came last month, when it booked photographer Masrat Zehra and journalist-author Gowhar Geelani under anti-terror laws for social media posts, and registered a case over a report in a national newspaper, summoning its Srinagar correspondent for questioning. A free media can help the government take the right actions more effectively than sunshine stories. The government should enable an atmosphere for free and fearless journalism, instead of creating policies to obstruct and prevent it.
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