Nearly two dozen English and vernacular daily newspapers published from Jammu and Kashmir ran blank front pages on Sunday to protest against the recent directive of the state government of withholding advertisements.
The journalist fraternity in the valley staged a sit-in protest against the J&K administration led by Governor Satya Pal Malik stating the decision is aimed to scuttle the voices of the media, especially the newspapers. The print media journalists were joined by their colleagues from the electronic media outside the Press Club in Srinagar. They raised voices against the J&K government's sudden directive.
Some of the prominent and widely circulated dailies from the valley including Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Reader and The Kashmir Times were among the ones that published blank front pages. The state government had stopped advertisements to local dailies post-Pulwama attack on February 14.
Sources told International Business Times, India, that the decision was taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs after the Pulwama terror attack that led to the killing of 40 CRPF personnel.
In the wake of no advertisement revenue, the newspapers have already trimmed down their pages as there is a scanty budget on the basis of which the local press in the Valley operates.
"There was no official communication by the government on their decision to stop giving advertisements to the local press. There has been still no word from the authorities even after the members from the Kashmir Editors Guild raised the issue with them, As such, we are being forced to come out on streets and protest," Kashmir Journalists Association president told International Business Times, India.
He added that decision of the government would directly have a bearing on the income of the hundreds of employees working in various departments of the local newspapers, especially when the press heavily relies on government advertisements for its revenue.
"The newspapers in Kashmir have a shoestring budget, especially because there are no big corporates or private sector in the valley who can advertise in the local dailies. As such, there is a huge dependence on the government department ads and other circulations which is literally their bread and butter. The government's decision may directly affect the livelihood of people who are employed in the local press," said Saqib Malik, a business correspondent with local daily Greater Kashmir.
Journalists in Kashmir staged protest against government's advertisement ban to GK, KR. pic.twitter.com/4I1YnwGwKk
— Moazum Mohammad (@moazum_m) March 10, 2019
A development that has got almost no coverage outside of the valley. The government is attempting to choke the media by denying them advertising revenues. I hope the Centre & State immediately reverse this decision of trying to silence the forth estate. https://t.co/nOxlsuNG2D
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) March 10, 2019
Curbs on Press Freedom in Kashmir - a regular feature now?
Pertinently, this is not for the first time that the state/central governments have exercised its powers to restrict the local newspapers in Kashmir from operating.
In 2016, post the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the then BJP-PDP government in the state led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had also issued an order for banning the publications of local dailies, calling it as a necessary measure to ensure the normalcy in the law and order situation of the valley.
Shujaat Bukhari, the former editor of local daily Rising Kashmir who was killed last year, had called the 2016 ban on the local dailies as a "press emergency."
Various international journalist associations including International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have unequivocally condemned the government's interference in the working of the local dailies in Kashmir including the state efforts to stop issuing advertisements to the newspapers.