Kashmir cable restrictions: No let up after two months

"As a deputy Commissioner of Srinagar city I am committed to a free press but press too have some responsibilities."
PEERZADA ARSHAD HAMID interviews the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar on the cable news restrictions in force for the last two months.

Two months ago the government in Jammu and Kashmir imposed a ban on the telecast of current affairs programmes on local cable TV networks. It has asked the cable TV networks to limit the telecast time of daily news bulletins to 15 minutes.  The ban was invoked on June 6, following the massive demonstrations over the rape and murder of two women in Shopian on May 30. Last year also during the Amarnath land row the government imposed a complete ban on cable TV networks in entire state. However, it was lifted after 12 days.

 

With two months having passed by the government seems to be in no mood to restore the status quo ante, during which some of the channels would show two hours of news and current affairs. In an interview Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Mr Mehraj Ahmad Kakroo talks about government’s tough posture to bridle the local cable TV networks.

 

What led the government to impose restrictions on cable TV operations (local cable news channels)?

 

As per section 6 of the cable Act, the local cable TV operators are not allowed to telecast any news or current affairs programmes. I suppose you are aware of the cable act of 1995 and Section 6 says ". . . operators cannot telecast anything which promotes violence . . ."

 

They were unabatedly showing the scenes that were not in sync with the programme code. By telecasting the footage of violence continuously on their channels, they were creating law and order problem for the government and we had to restrict them. They were showing violence against state and para military forces. For hours.  Government will not allow them to show whatever they want. After all it’s a friendly concession that we have given to them that they are showing news, which otherwise they are not entitled to show.

 

But local cable TV channels are running news and current affairs programmes since 2005. Until 2008 that was not an issue with the government. Now can you explain how these channels help in creating law and order problem in the city.

 

We had given them a friendly concession. Now when these channels show the violence like stone pelting incidents for hours together or the firing of tear smoke shells right from beginning until the last trail of smoke, you can yourself get it how it can impact the psyche of people especially young.  

 

If you say telecasting news and current affairs programmes is illegal, why don’t you go by the law and ban them altogether?

 

I think I have already answered that question.

 

On June 3, you have also sent notices to the cable TV operators, wherein you have accused them of giving "preferential coverage" to the activities of separatist leaders. Does government here has a special cell to monitor the programmes that they telecast?

 

Of course, we have a cell which monitors their programes continuously. As a deputy Commissioner of Srinagar city I am committed to a free press but press too have some responsibilities. Instead of posing questions like this, you should have asked me, how long are you going to continue with the restrictions?

 

Okay, how long are you going to stretch the restrictions on them?

 

Unless and until they discover their professional role. They have to stick to the programme code in notice. Last year they tendered unconditional apologies and have given an undertakings, which compound their culpability.

 

Do all local cable TV channels violate the programme code.

 

All of them are resorting to sensationalism and violate the norms.

 

Proprietors of the local cable TV channels said in the meeting between you and them on June 6, they were threatened rather than taken into confidence to follow the new guidelines.

 

We need not have called them if we wanted to bulldoze them and we have a legality to do that but we don’t want to.

 

 We invited them to a place where other government meetings attended by senior officers were going on. They were not otherwise supposed to be invited there.

 

Now is government contemplating to come up with the guidelines for the local cable TV operators?

 

They have to realize their role. The government is not for obviating the growth of print and electronic media as we recognize them as pillars of democracry. We are not scared of any positive criticism which helps the development process. We won’t mind if they will take on government on the developmental front. But I am very clear, we don’t want to face any law and order problem because of them. Now it’s up to them to decide.

 

Are you satisfied with the way other media (local print and national media) is reporting Kashmir?

 

The media also has a responsibility. But I feel they pick up negative side of the story more often. Let me share my observation with you. Recently when the Vice President of India came for the convocation of the University of Kashmir  they showed that  there was a hartal. But they never said that this was the first time in 25 years that the convocation was being held in the university campus.

 

 

 

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