Might is right

Kashmir Times. Dated: 1/18/2022 9:12:36 AM

*Killing a democratic media space

The high voltage drama that began in Kashmir Press Club on Saturday with the staging of a virtual coup, backed by Police and CRPF personnel, and ended in the final declaration of ‘non-existence of the Press Club’ and take-over of its premises highlights once again the vulnerabilities of media-persons in Jammu and Kashmir and the free spaces that enable their work. The sequence of events that have lead to the premature lockdown and shutdown of the Kashmir Press Club reveal both the method and madness employed by some within the administration to crackdown on this professional institution which in the last two years had become a space for solidarity, intellectual activities, open discussions, work and relaxation for working journalists – vital needs for journalists working under very challenging circumstances. The closure of the Press Club and the way it has been done is undemocratic, sets a terrible precedent and the actions of the last few days need to be rolled back. It is not difficult to trace a pattern in the due diligence done by some vested interests within the administration to choreograph the sequence of events aimed at scuttling a democratic institution and discouraging free media. Statements professing faith in free and independent press and blaming the entire affair on “warring factions” of journalists when the whole situation has been born out of the administration’s delay to re-register the Kashmir Press Club for six months, cancelling its re-registration fortnight after it was finally given and following this up with a take-over of the club with backing of police. A handful of journalists could not have taken over the club by superseding an elected body without the police backing, which reveals the pugmarks of the administration in the entire operation. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint where the blame lies but it was expected that the government, which is committed to upholding and protecting democratic institutions and free press rather than demolishing them, would have intervened to restore the status quo and also probe the arbitrary and illegitimate actions of the officers behind this ugly episode. Instead by locking the Press Club building and taking control of it by declaring Kashmir Press Club dead, the J&K government has endorsed an indefensible and undemocratic act, raising questions about the genesis of the staged coup and lockdown drama which has been widely and rightly condemned by press and media fraternity across the country. It is an accepted principle across the country that such autonomous and democratic professional bodies have within their constitutions and rules inherent mechanisms for stemming the rot within through a participatory process. Professionals can take elected bodies to task for wrong-doing and remedial processes exist within every such society. Government interference is not only unjustified. It is reprehensible. The government must take a more pragmatic view of the entire episode and work in the interest of upholding democratic values and free press. Mere lip sympathy with actions to the contrary will not be enough.



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