The two newspapers, Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader, have been on life support for more than two weeks, ever since the Jammu and Kashmir state government began withholding all advertising from them on 16 February. No official explanation has been given for the decision although, as the Kashmiri private sector is very weak, the media depend almost totally on public sector ads.
“Targeting two newspapers in this completely arbitrary manner clearly constitutes an act of crude intimidation,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The authorities have no right to harass the publications they dislike with the aim of imposing their own version of the facts. Amid a surge in tension in the Kashmir valley, it absolutely vital that newspapers should be able to cover the situation in a completely independent manner, especially as press freedom is an essential condition for defusing tension.”
“Immense financial implications”
Kashmir Reader owner and editor Haji Hayat Mohammad Bhat told RSF that the loss of advertising revenue would have “immense financial implications” for the two newspapers. “We would at the very least expect the government to tell us why they stopped the advertisements."
The decision was clearly “intended to ensure that the free media are curbed,” Greater Kashmir publisher Rashid Makhdoomi told RSF. “All we have been told is that the stoppage orders have come from the top. We need to be told who at the top has stopped the advertisements.”
Makhdoomi pointed out that the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity, a federal government offshoot, previously cut off advertising in his newspaper in 2008 although it is the Kashmir Valley’s most widely read newspaper and its Facebook page alone now has more than 2 million followers.
This latest decision by the Jammu and Kashmir government alluded to an October 2017 directive from the Union ministry of home affairs. The Hindustan Times, which has obtained a copy of the directive, said it named a number of Kashmiri media outlets, accused them of publishing content “glamourizing terrorists and anti-national elements” and recommended depriving them of state advertising.
The Jammu and Kashmir government took the decision two days after 46 Indian paramilitaries were killed in Pulwama, in western Kashmir, on 14 February by a suicide bomber who was a member of an Islamist militant group based across the border in Pakistan.
There are many examples of how press freedom has been one of the leading collateral victims of the growing tension in the Kashmir Valley for the past two years. The journalist Aasif Sultan has been detained since 24 August because of an article he wrote for the Kashmir Narrator monthly, while the hearings in his case, including one on 15 February, keep on being postponed.
Accredited Kashmiri reporters were arbitrarily prevented from covering an official event in Srinagar, the state capital, on 26 January to mark Republic Day of India, one of India’s three national holidays. Four journalists were injured when police deliberately fired shotgun pellets at reporters a week before that. Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the leading regional newspaper Rising Kashmir, was gunned down in Srinagar in June 2018.
The plight of Kashmir’s journalists is one of the many reasons why India is ranked no better than 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.