NEW DELHI: The first indication that there is no re-think on Kashmir by the state or central government came from the early morning raids on Kashmiri newspaper houses. The printing press of Greater Kashmir was closed and with it the publishing of several newspapers that use the printing press, and copies of Rising Kashmir seized by the raiding police force. Journalists said those who were present were harassed, mobile phones seized in the unbridled display of power.

This is of course, not a first for Kashmir. But this has happened perhaps after a couple of decades if not more, with the local media being allowed to function even in the trying months of 2010 when the National Conference government was in power. It is a basic confirmation of the fact that censorship and raids take place when governments are increasingly insecure, intolerant of dissent, and fearful of the consequences of their own actions. And with no strategy, or the political will perhaps, to restore calm and peace.

In this day and age of global communication, raids on a free media do not have the same impact as earlier as it cannot block out news in its entirety. The government knows this and hence the closure of printing presses and all that goes with it is basically to send out a threatening message to the newspapers to conform. And to others on the periphery to fall in line. Like one had pointed out in an earlier article, basically this amounts today to a knee jerk response based on old mind sets and tactics. It can stifle the news but for just a while, and it is always counterproductive as it leaves the air free for rumours that are often more vicious and damaging than the cold facts.

It is interesting that innocuous reportage of the situation as it is in Kashmir (see Rising Kashmir facsimile) is seen as threatening by those in power and the authorities, while the 24x7 television coverage of the current violence in the Valley with comments that are fanning flames of anger are not considered dangerous. The ‘red and blue’ studios full of Kashmir experts, raging anger, and waging violence against the ‘terrorists’ have been feeding into the anger so visible in the Valley. Instead of dousing the flames, these channels have been proactively fanning the violence with the one sided coverage that has led even a IAS topper from Kashmir Shah Faesal to pour out his anger and disillusionment in a Facebook post. Excerpts:

“At a moment when Kashmir is mourning its dead, the propaganda and provocation being dished out from red and blue newsrooms is breeding more alienation and anger in Kashmir than what Indian state can manage.”

“Personal vulnerability apart, the very fact of becoming a part of a ridiculous debate is something which has disturbed me very much. Have I joined IAS to do a job or to become a part of your sadistic propaganda machine? In fact when I qualified this exam I never thought of spending my whole life scratching the desk and if this nonsense around me continues, I might prefer to resign sooner than later.”

“I am adding to what my younger colleague Yasin Chaudhary had said earlier in his Facebook post. ZeeNews Aaj Tak Times Now and NewsX are not going to tell you the truth about Kashmir. Please mind your head. And then, when a state kills and maims its own citizens, it's self-injury and self-decimation of the worst sort. No Government can distance itself from the pain of its people and all out efforts are being made to contain this crisis and reach out to youth. It is going to take time.”

The anger of young Kashmiris against this media that Faesel has referred to is pouring out on the social media. And the isolation and alienation is rapidly extending to cover even those sections who were trying to advise restraint in the Valley. Faesal seen as a sober bureaucrat by all who know him is a case in point, where he is now willing to resign from the service if that will free him from tolerating this ‘nonsense’.

Wild allegations are made by supposedly responsible anchors in TV news channels, and experts brought in to brand all Kashmiris as terrorists and Pakistan alone as the reason for the current violence. In the process, the onerous task of bringing down the passions has been done away with entirely with the anchors raising the pitch with every subsequent prime time discussion. This ‘extremism’ by sections of the media here is further feeding into the anger, raising it to unprecedented levels as is evident from the cycle of violence that keeps the Valley tense and burning.

The last time that the youth of Kashmir reacted badly to the media in this manner, was during the floods a couple of years ago, where celebrity anchors were flown into Kashmir by the Army to cover its rescue efforts. In the process the amazing work done by the youth in bringing hundreds of stranded Kashmiris to safety was completely ignored by the ceaseless coverage of the floods. The anger generate as a result was immense, with even the military men admitting that an opportunity for both sides to work together was lost because of the highly partisan media coverage that gave all the credit to the Army, and none to the youth who had braved the odds and shown exemplary courage.

This time the divide is greater, and clearly permanent. At a time when the media, by just the weight of impartial coverage of events, could have provided the badly needed healing touch, it has moved away to support the establishment against the people. This in itself is a violation of media ethics as journalism by its very nature is in place to bring the concerns and the plight of the people to the government, and demand remedial action.

When the media does not follow the basic principles of communicating the people’s concerns to the authorities and the government, and propagates instead for governments, it moves well out of the mould defined by journalistic responsibilities and ethics. And in the process becomes unaccountable to the people, remaining sensitive only to the funders and the powers in place.

And in the process the media then moves from communicating the voice of the people to becoming part of the state propaganda machinery, partisan and controlled.

Internet and mobile services in Kashmir have been snapped, and now the newspaper houses raided. In the absence of legitimate channels of communication, rumours take over with consequences that can be far more dangerous and lethal. It also feeds into the sense of isolation and alienation, which then are further exploited by vested interests of all kinds.

Unfortunately when those in power start losing control their first response is to shoot the messenger. But this particular kind of bullet has this strange capacity to ricochet and hit those holding the gun instead, often with fatal results. Emergency is a case in point, that governments will do well not to forget.

(Cover photo: Front page of Rising Kashmir that was seized by the police today)