Till August 2019, the media in Kashmir was dominantly espousing a narrative having anti-national tones and was distantly connected with the larger national interest. This was especially true of the influential local media houses and individual heavyweights associated with the national and international press.
In the name of freedom of the press, anything and everything was being published or aired in the media, giving a damn to the ‘reasonable restrictions’, media ethics, or the responsibilities towards the society or the country. All this was not done in the air or without any consideration. It was done against huge paychecks from anti-Indian forces both within and outside the country.
National Investigation Agency (NIA) turned the heat on many media organizations in Kashmir and raided their offices. The objective was to investigate their hawala transactions and funds that they received from anti-Indian forces and Pakistan to run anti-India propaganda.
These big fishes of Kashmir media would set any agenda or a narrative in Kashmir, mostly not in sync with the larger national good, but colluding to undermine the national interest. The irony was that the smaller media organizations or low-budget newspapers, who had no intention to toe the apparently anti-national line in their editorial policies, were forced to follow the big sharks in the sea of Kashmir media. So it was like the big fishes forcing the smaller ones to fall in line or drown to death.
This was happening despite the fact that the major share of government advertisements was going to these big fishes. In this muddle, misinformation and the fake news would always find space in popular media outlets in Kashmir. The media scene in Kashmir would depict a pathetic picture. The governments and administration in the erstwhile state of J&K would mollycoddle these media sharks for their ulterior motives.
HC Directive To UT Admin
This issue of fake news and misinformation was so serious that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had to take Suo moto cognizance of the matter. The High Court told the UT Administration to consider setting up a regulatory body for news outlets on social media. The court said that the Administration should take action “most expeditiously to curb the circulation of fake news, which tarnishes the image of real journalists”.
Media Policy 2020 Formulated
Although things started changing for good abruptly post-August 2019 in Kashmir, the media landscape needed specific policy intervention to smoothen its rough territory. On June 2, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir administration approved a 53-page new media policy titled ‘Media Policy 2020’ in order to “ensure a synchronized and effective use of all forms of media to build public trust, foster a genuinely positive image of the Government based on performance and strengthen the relationship with key stakeholders.”
One of the main objectives of the policy is to “thwart misinformation, fake news and be alert to any attempts to use the media to incite communal passions, preach violence, or to propagate any information prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India”.
Any media that violates this objective will be banned from receiving any advertisements from the government in addition to facing legal proceedings. “There shall be no release of advertisements to any media which incite or intend to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of India or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior. Any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti-national activities or plagiarism shall be de-impanelled (shorn of official recognition and access) besides being proceeded against under the law,” states the media policy.
The policy was well received by many nationalist voices in Jammu and Kashmir and in the country, saying this was much needed in a place like Kashmir which has seen anti-India propaganda peddled by media organizations without the scare of any consequences. Certain big fishes, who felt the heat, started making noises as expected. But overall, the policy is proactive with a clear vision for the future with a focus on emerging communication needs.
The new policy includes the establishment of a media academy/institute/chair in reputed national institutes in J&K such as IIMC, and IIM that will promote the highest standard of journalism, and coordinate study and research in the field of journalism. The key highlight of the policy is that it lays down a solid foundation to use all forms of media to build public trust, pay attention to the grievances of people projected by the media and strengthen the relationship between the various stakeholders.
The policy is very good at the formulation level but has not seen pro-activeness at its implementation level. It is difficult to guess why the policy implementation is being dilly-dallying by the UT Administration
The policy will aid the government to carry the message of “welfare, development, and progress to the people in an effective manner”. It (policy) addresses the ambiguities in the earlier advertisement policy and ensures that different kinds of media are given due consideration to keep pace with the changing demands of present times.
Addressing the issue of overall growth and development of media through capacity-building and creating a citizen-centric eco-system in J&K, the new policy includes the institution of media awards to be given each year to two outstanding media or communication professionals. The policy will be the basis for creating the Standard Operating Procedure to reach out to people in situations of crises like health issues and natural disasters.
Urgent Implementation Needed
The policy is very good at the formulation level but has not seen pro-activeness at its implementation level. It is difficult to guess why the policy implementation is being dilly-dallying by the UT Administration.
One of the main critiques of the policy was that it imposes restrictions on the freedom of the press. The fact is that the New Media Policy does not directly impose restrictions on freedom. It only places some deterrents wherein journalists and media houses could turn into more responsible towards national interest. This is very much needed in J&K owing to the fact that a proxy and propaganda war has been unleashed in the region by Pakistan. So the mandatory background checks of newspaper publishers, editors, and key staff members before “empanelling”—or making them eligible for—government advertisements or according to them other official recognition is very much needed. This is what the new media policy encapsulates.
It is documented that Jammu & Kashmir’s diverse and energetic press has around 414 Empanelled newspapers, of which 172 are in Kashmir (about 60 in Urdu and 40 in English). Fair distribution of government advertisements among diverse J&K press is also imperative and particularly relevant. Newspapers in Kashmir, in the general absence of commercial advertising, depend in large measure on revenues from government advertisements. The quick implementation of a new media policy will definitely address all such issues.