"This fear is generating a chilling effect on journalists who have to be very careful not to annoy the authorities and security forces with their reportage, even though the same constitutes honest and impartial reporting," the affidavit said.
A senior journalist from Jammu and Kashmir told the Supreme Court Wednesday that “communication blockade” still prevails in the valley and scribes were facing “hostility and aggression” in seeking access for their work.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, said constant monitoring of news reports sent through a “makeshift media centre” in Srinagar, disregard for press cards and movement passes and deletion of photos and videos shot by scribes is “causing fear and anxiety” among them.
“This fear is generating a chilling effect on journalists who have to be very careful not to annoy the authorities and security forces with their reportage, even though the same constitutes honest and impartial reporting,” the affidavit said.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is scheduled to hear the plea on Thursday. Bhasin’s affidavit said that some journalists have been issued a movement pass, which is akin to curfew pass, but it does not ensure unrestricted access to all public places to enable them to perform their work.
“The movement of journalists is decided by security forces manning the check points, who often do not allow journalists holding a movement pass, to move from one area to the other,” it said. “Unconstitutional fetters on the dual rights — of the press and media to report and the right to know of the people of Kashmir — cannot be sustained in law much less on the basis of mere conjecture, alarm, suspicions and surmises,” the affidavit said.
It further said that Editor-in-chief of Kashmir Times newspaper, Prabodh Jamwal, had travelled to Srinagar from Jammu on August 28 and returned on August 31 and he had informed Bhasin about the status of communication shutdown and information blackout in Kashmir.
“Movement of journalists, including photo and video journalists, in Srinagar continues to be restricted by security forces who man the check posts, barricades and concertina wires that are erected across the city,” it said.
“Journalists are not being allowed to enter certain parts of Srinagar, especially the downtown area which is considered as a sensitive locality. Despite having movement passes issued by the divisional commissioner, journalists are not allowed to enter downtown by the security forces,” it said.
It said that on being asked, the scribes are not given the reasons as to under what orders or law they were being denied entry. “Many journalists have faced hostility and aggression while seeking access and are fearful of the security forces at the check point,” it said, adding that “the information blackhole around the rural areas and other districts of Kashmir thus continues.”
Sue to the restrictions, newspapers have reduced their publication from the usual 12-16 pages to 2-4 pages per edition, it said.”Photo journalists and video-graphers have reported to being frequently hauled up by either the police or security forces and in several instances the photographs and videos shot by them have been forcefully deleted,” it said. “Despite the assurances of normalcy given in many fora by senior government officials, a debilitating communication blockade continues as mobile and internet services remain shutdown across Kashmir valley for almost one month now,” it said.
The affidavit said the state authorities have set up a makeshift media centre in a private hotel in Sonwar, Srinagar but it has only four computers and one mobile phone without internet facility for the use of scribes. “This media centre cannot in any manner be considered as satisfying the freedom of the press guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India nor does it provide an enabling environment to the press to function independently in Kashmir,” the affidavit said.
“With the communication and information blackout prevailing in Kashmir, journalists fear that if state authorities or security personnel were to target them for their honest reporting, then they will have no avenue to seek protection and justice,” it said.
The apex court had on August 28 asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to reply to Bhasin’s plea seeking directions for restoration of all modes of communication, including mobile internet and landline services, throughout the state in order to provide an enabling environment for the media to practise its profession.