Blocking Information !

“Kashmir’s sandwiched Press”  

Can we have Right to Information when Obsolete laws override it ?   

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

On May 3rd 2012 I had written a piece on the eve of World Press Freedom day titled “ The Limits of Freedom”. In that article I had expressed my concern on the issue of snapping of the DAVP advertisements to some Srinagar based  english dailies by Government. I had never even thought that a time would come ,when the newspaper circulation would also be banned in this part of the world ? By invoking an obsolete legislation enacted during the time of Autocratic ruler Maharaja Hari Singh namely Jammu & Kashmir Newspaper (Incitement to Offenses) Act Samvat 1971, the authorities have not only stopped the circulation of “Kashmir Reader” newspaper, but have in-fact violated all the local and international laws & declarations related to Freedom of Press.

UN’s perspective Freedom of Press :

In December 1993 UN General Assembly proclaimed World Press Freedom Day. The aim of celebrating this day is to strengthen the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the states for press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.The mandate set out by United Nations Educational ,Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) set out it its constitution of 1945 specifically calls on the Organization to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”.  In recent times, the United Nations (UN) has highlighted the importance of Freedom of Information in its Brisbane Declaration of 2010 when UNESCO had organized  International Press Freedom day conference at Brisbane Australia on 3rd May 2010 titled “The Right to Know”. On fostering Freedom of Information, Right to Information and empowerment of people Maputo declaration was adopted in 2008. During 2005 Dakar declaration was adopted on Freedom of Information during annual celebrations of World Press Freedom day at Dakkar the capital city of Senegal. During his message on this year’s Press Freedom Day (May 3rd 2016) , UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said :

“ On this World Press Freedom Day , I urge all Governments , politicians , businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing & protecting an independent , free media . Without this fundamental right , people are less free and less empowered. With it we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all” .

Press Freedom in Kashmir :

Due to political uncertainty and conflict the press in Kashmir  has not been able to be free and independent . The un necessary interference of various state and non state actors has hampered the growth of the fourth estate in Jammu & Kashmir. Not only the press but other institutions as well could not grow here due to this conflict. The Kashmir based print media  has been literally sandwiched. If it writes against Government or what people demand, the DAVP advertisements are snapped or even news papers banned as happened in case of Kashmir Reader recently. If local press writes what favours  Government of India , the particular newspaper has to face the wrath from resistance camp , Hurriyat leadership  and even militants. Recently a press reporter was targeted by stone pelting youth who smashed his car windshield when the journalist showed them his photo identity card during a Shutdown (hartal).

“ You publish Modi’s huge photo in your newspaper” one of the young protestors shouted at him. This is not only a single incident but there are more than one dozen incidents wherein press reporters were thrashed or harassed by protesting youth in the recent days,  but these incidents were not  reported. On the other side journalists have been physically harmed , injured  and abused  by Indian security forces as well.

Conclusion :  

This is the age of information. If authorities disallow publishing of a  newspaper in 21stcentury , I think we are pushing our state into dark ages. What kind of message do we send to the world communities ? New York Times , CNN and other international media highlighted banning of a newspaper in Kashmir. If authorities feel facebook & wattsapp can incite violence , what is the need of banning emailing as well ? How can this incite violence ? Constitution guarantees us Freedom of Expression and Speech. The theme of 2016 Press Freedom Day is :

Access to Information & Fundamental Freedoms- This is your Right “.

By banning newspapers isn’t Government violating all these international conventions, laws and declarations ? Isn’t Government creating a barrier by not allowing us to have access to Information ? On one side Government gives us the  Right to Information (RTI), but  on the other hand it  invokes Obsolete Laws which override such pro people legislations thus depriving us from having the Access or Right to Information ? …..

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar based Social activist and columnist.  

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