SRINAGAR: Seven years have passed, the discriminatory ban on cable news channels continues in Kashmir region of Jammu And Kashmir State in present Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) coalition Government despite PDP’s strong opposition during previous regime.
Pertinently the then State administration in Omar Abdullah’s government had invoked the ban on local TV channels for allegedly violating the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, while broadcasting news in 2008. However the question arises why not government found any violation before 2008 when the then government of Omar Abdullah was facing a major political crises in the state.
It is being alleged that the then Omar government banned these local cable networks to save their own skin from further public outcry due to land transfer agitation followed by double rape and murder in Shopian in 2009 which was followed by the 2010 summer unrest. Prior to the ban factually these cable channels were used by the government and state administration for Public relation and promoting their political activities without any excuse of violating the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act.
Surprisingly in the present regime of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition Government the discriminatory ban continues in Kashmir while their counterparts in Jammu seem to be immune from the act and any violation. The step-motherly treatment has angered the cable operators and public in valley who term the ban as unjust and a tactic to suppress a particular region of J&K. It is being alleged that the leaders of PDP which is BJP’s alliance partner in present state government who were pretending to be a strong voice against the unfair and unjust ban on cable channels during Omar Abdullah regime has proven its petty politics by being a mute spectator now in their own rule.
Abdul Haq Khan, senior Ministers in present PDP-BJP government in 2011 registered a strong protest in legislative assembly during Omar government against the ban on cable channels in Valley. Infact the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has remained vocal against the double standard by the then government by enforcing the violation act in Kashmir region but not in Jammu. Mehbooba Mufti on several occasions had criticized Omar government over the issue and had demanded revocation of the unjust ban. While-as now it is their own government in the state, these leaders and their government seems mute spectator to the discrimination and step motherly treatment which exposes their dirty and foul politics.
Experts said that under Right to Information people have right to know about the happenings around them. Adding that the cable channels have been a source of entertainment for people, however the cable operators can focus on local issue of public importance which national new channels and other regional channels do not perform. “There was double speak and discrimination by the Omar government which is continued by the Mufti’s government. How can they use the same law differently in two regions of a state? PDP leaders and PDP as a party at large was pretending vocal against the unjustified ban of these channels when it was in opposition but why they are silent now if they can revoke it. This is pity of them“, said Bilal Furkani, a journalist who worked with different local cable channels in Kashmir. He adds it is not the law but discrimination by the government.
The prominent Cable TV channels in Kashmir were being operated from Srinagar city besides few more on district levels. Mouj Kashir (Mother Kahmir), Sen Channel (our channel), Wadi TV (Valley TV), JK Channel, Take 1 were the cable channels with wide network and viewership. These channels were sources of livelihood to hundreds of media professional forced to face the wrath of political unjust. The JK Channel, Take 1 channel were allowed to carry their operations in Jammu province but gagged in Valley. It is being alleged that the discrimination was politically motivated as the JK channel is owned by the Subhash Chaudhary brother of BJP leader Sham Chaudhary and Take-1 channel is backed by the NC leader Davinder Sigh Rana. Pertinently the JK-Take-1 exerts a monopoly on the lucrative cable TV business in Jammu and Kashmir, which forced Kahsmir based cable operators to protest the monopoly by the Jammu based people several times in past, however went unheard.
Kashmir based cable channel operators allege that it was Taj Mohi-ud-Din, a senior Cabinet minister in Congress-NC coalition who was opposing the revocation of ban tooth and nail for ulterior motives adding that even Taj threatens resignation if the channels are allowed to broadcast news which compel Omar Abdullah to issues a statement that “I don’t want to lose a capable minister for a few channels.”
Demanding revocation of ban in Kashmir over cable news channels, Kashmir Broadcasters Association laments that it was a growing industry in the state which was employing hundreds of people associated with the profession, however fades away due the political insensitivity. “Many journalists nowadays working different with national and international media houses are product of local cable industry. These channels were watchdog of grievance of people living in far flung areas who need basic amenities like roads, water and electricity,” said a group of journalists who have worked for local cable networks.
Cable operators in Kashmir claim that the cable has given an alternate media to the people to air their grievances. These channels were having a considerable viewership particularly during the prime time because of their proximity to local people. “Cable TV channels have played a role in highlighting our grievances. New Delhi-based media channels don’t find our local grievances newsworthy, state-owned television cannot annoy the officials, so in such a scenario Cable TV was very effective. There have been times when government acknowledged their functioning. Often during important days like January 26 and August 15, these channels were awarded for their functioning”, they said.
Worth to mention that the ban was first invoked in both regions of the state during 2008 following land transfer agitation. Interestingly the ban on Jammu-based cable channels was lifted soon, in Kashmir the cable operators were treated discriminatory. However the issue was trigger up again in 2009, due to double rape and murder case in Shopian, which witness massive protests across the Kashmir Valley. Following the unrest the cable news operators were asked to reduce the airtime of news and current affair programs from 24 hours to a mere 15 minutes. Ironically the worst followed in 2010. During the 2010 summer unrest, in which more than 115 youth were killed due to which the situation deteriorated in the Valley, the channels were asked to stop broadcasting news altogether.
Pertinently the cable operators have braved militant threats to set up a network for cable television in the valley. There have been instances when some separatist outfits asked them to close their operations. Many people associated with cable networks have got killed during the turmoil. The militants many a time have asked the cable owners to suspend their operations for the programs and films showed on it were being used to promote indecency and immorality in the society. At many place grenades were lobbed at the cable offices, hence turns cable business in Kashmir a victim of political insensitivity.
( Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir Based Journalist working for national media house. )