Communication blockade cripples media in Kashmir

Restrictions on movements and communication blackout in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, which entered 35th day on Monday, is frustrating journalists in the region.

The Muslim-majority region is facing a communication blackout since Aug. 5 when India stripped the region of special provisions guaranteed by the country's constitution.

With internet access, mobile phone services remaining suspended and no access to the wires, just a few local newspapers are published.

Journalists representing national and international media are dependent on the government's media facilitation center in Srinagar, which has an internet, but no Wi-Fi access.

Talking to Anadolu Agency, Ishfaq Tantry, general secretary of Kashmir Press Club narrates difficulties to report stories from Kashmir under the present circumstances.

"The communications blockade has indeed adversely affected the ground reporting. In the absence of internet and telephones, including the mobile phones, journalists are finding it difficult to verify and cross-check information," he said.

Further, reporters are unable to get playbacks to check their edited stories or even to receive phone calls from their offices for fact checking.

"It appears that the information blockade was meant to prevent stories from Kashmir going out," he said.

An independent journalist, Safwat Zargar, said the newsgathering became a major casualty in the communication blockade.

"The blockade has crippled reporters representing the print and online media outlets. Even though it has hit TV reporters also, but they manage to communicate through outside broadcasting vans, to connect to their offices. First and major casualty is the news-gathering and inability of journalists to reach to the government and their sources for confirmation," he said.

Bashaarat Masood, who represents widely circulated daily the Indian Express, says that he has never experienced more difficult times for journalists as at present. A journalist for over past 15 years, Masood described the clampdown as "unprecedented".

"It has been an onerous task to send our stories," he told Anadolu Agency.

Local media disabled

Local media experiences a much more difficult situation. As many as 180 English and Urdu daily newspapers have been publishing from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Just five of them are publishing due to restrictions and in the absence of access to the wires.

"We have reduced the number of pages to half, because we are unable to produce content for 16 pages every day," said an editor of a leading Urdu daily, whose truncated newspaper is hitting stands.

"We go to the media facilitation center, download the content and use it in the edition," said the editor, who wished to remain anonymous.

"They (journalists) are unable to bring out full editions, unable to access and process information about day-to-day happening, unable to move freely, and above all afraid to even question the crippling atmosphere," two Kashmir-based journalist bodies said in a joint statement.

Many journalists have been innovative to connect to their offices in order to beat the blockade. They would reach the airport, locate passengers leaving for New Delhi and send USB flash drives to their offices.

Farooq Khan, senior photojournalist works for a foreign network, told Anadolu Agency that in the first few days after Aug. 5, he would find a messenger and send pictures through flash drives. But most of the journalists are completely dependent on the government media center.

"In 2016, when the militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, there was a similar internet shutdown. But landline phones were working. We could send our stories and pictures from our offices. This time, landline services for the first time have been disconnected. We cannot connect to the internet from our offices," Shuaib Masoodi, another photojournalist in Srinagar told Anadolu Agency.

Kashmir Press Club and other groups representing media have expressed serious concerns over the communication blockade that is affecting the working of journalists.

News-gathering a casualty

A report named "News Behind the Barbed Wire" on Kashmir information blockade released by the Network of Women in Media, India and the Free Speech Collective has brought out troubles faced by the media.

"Journalists continue to face severe restrictions in all the processes of news-gathering, verification and dissemination, the free flow of information has been blocked, leaving in its wake a troubled silence that bodes ill for freedom of expression and media freedom," the report said.

The report said the communication blockade and the ban on the internet have not only caused unimaginable and inhuman problems for all citizens but has brought the media to a standstill.

A statement issued by the Kashmir Press Club on Sept. 3, also expressed concern at the "continuous communication blockade".

"Since the communication blockade was imposed in the region on Aug. 5, the Club took up the issue with the government authorities concerned on several occasions, urging them to restore mobile phones, internet and telephone landlines to journalists and media outlets, including newspapers and also to the Club itself. But all these efforts have proved futile, as these services have not been restored to journalists till date," the statement said.

After the statement, the government added four new computers to the media facilitation center. They also restored mobile phones of selected government and police officials. But did not lift the blockade or ease restrictions on the media.

Indian authorities, however, claimed last week that the daytime restrictions on public movement across Jammu and Kashmir have been lifted in 90% of the region.

From 1954 until Aug. 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special status under the Indian constitution, which allowed it to enact own laws. The provisions also protected the region's citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in and owning land in the territory.

India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.

The two South Asian nuclear powers have fought two wars over Kashmir in 1947 and 1965.

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