Kashmir Valley without news – Newspapers must observe social contract

Jul 20th, 2016 | Category: Articles

For the third straight day, newspapers have remained off the streets in the Kashmir Valley. The Tribune’s Srinagar edition was also a victim of the ban on newspapers after the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani. The authorities are pulling out all the stops to contain a new trend. Locals would earlier remain behind closed doors during encounters. The security forces now encounter locals trying to disrupt anti-militancy operations. The events after Wani’s killing are a much larger reflection of the earlier localised protests. The body count may not be an accurate index of the extent of the unrest because at many places lightly armed security forces chased off the protesters without firing a shot.

It was perhaps in response to the widespread nature of protests that the authorities opted to take locally printed newspapers off the streets for three days while newspapers editions from the mainland have been off limits for much longer. The authorities’ zeal may have been misplaced in equating the inflammatory potential of social media and channels with that of locally printed newspapers. Newspapers have a social contract with the state predicated on the grant of several concessions. A newspaper can take an extreme and irresponsible stand only to its own peril.

The authorities are also too well aware of the various ways in which the message of responsible reporting can be subtly transmitted to those newspapers unmindful of their civic duty during times of extreme unrest. Is it their case that this option was exercised and did not make headway? If not, perhaps it would have been a better idea to allow newspapers to be printed. At least the sight of newspapers being delivered provides some semblance of normality, however perfunctory and transient. The printed word, even if published under the watchful eye of the state, could have been a counterfoil to wild rumours that sweep the streets during such times. The ban on newspapers comes to an end on Tuesday. The situation in the Valley on the day will tell whether the printed word was an impediment or an ameliorative exercise.

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