On, off, on....a Press Club for Kashmir

IN Regional Media | 10/04/2015
Jammu has a press club, Srinagar does not. And the Srinagar building that Kashmiri journalists had hoped would be turned into a press club has gone to a government department.
NAZIR GANAIE reports. Pix: pressclubofjammu.com
Kashmiri journalists are dismayed at the government’s decision to hand over a building which many journalists had thought was perfect for a Press Club to the State Department of Information instead.
The demand for a Press Club has been around for some time. The building housing the Public Service Commission in Polo View, in the heart of downtown Srinagar, had been eyed by journalists for years as being the ideal location.  
"The State Information Department is in possession of two spacious structures, one is the old press building and another is the Polo View structure in Srinagar. The Department has around 70 employees, who are better placed even in these structures, which can be further expanded," said Srinagar journalist, Peerzada Ashiq who works for the Hindustan Times.

Ashiq said he was deeply disappointed by the decision. "For the first time in 25 years, we would have had a Press Club. The allocation of a Press Club is no concession to us but something that is long due to us,’ he said, comparing the absence of a Press Club to judges in the region not having court rooms. 
"We understand the fears of the government about having a vibrant media and loosening leverage but being part of this welfare state, working as dictators at times, the media fraternity deserves a respectable place to serve the people of the state better, like in other parts of the world," Ashiq said.

Minister for Finance, Dr Haseeb Drabu, speaking at a recent assembly session in Jammu, announced that the necessary steps for upgrading the existing Press Club in Jammu and establishing another one in Srinagar would be taken soon.

But this is the kind of assurance that Kashmir’s journalistic fraternity have been hearing again and again, namely that the Public Service Commission building near Polo View would be allotted to the Kashmir Press Club. 

"I think the building was the right place, being centrally located and easily accessible,’ said Shujaat Bukhari, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper Rising Kashmir.

Journalists say they need a place where they can interact with other journalists, with people from allied professions, where they set up a library, hold lectures and invite guest speakers. 

Striking a lighter note, columnist and chairman of the London-based Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission, Nazir Gilani said: "Srinagar is rich in all kinds of notoriety. The Press Club can be one more addition. " 
In contrast, the Jammu region has a vibrant Press Club which has affiliations with other top press clubs. Elections for it have always been fought hard. The foundation for it was laid by veteran journalist, Ved Bhasin, a four-time president of the Jammu Press Club.  "The Jammu Press Club was able to improve the scholarship of the journalists as they would discuss different issues," Bhasin told Rising Kashmir.
The lack of a Press Club is all the more lamentable because of the recent boom in journalism with major international and New Delhi-based print and electronic media organizations opening their bureaus here.
The former Director of Information, Farooq Renz, has suggested that the erstwhile ‘Srinagar Club’, a historical structure dating back to the maharajas, near Zero Bridge had been identified for the Press Club but it continues to be under the possession of paramilitary CRPF.
"Most visiting foreign journalists are surprised to know that there is no Press Club in Kashmir. If provided, this facility would be a central meeting point, " said Farooq Javeed Khan, President, Kashmir Press Photographers Association. 
AP photojournalist and winner of World Press Photo Award, Altaf Qadri, has a different take on the issue. "I find it rather funny. We as journalists are not allowed to work freely during protests, curfews and other situations. We have been subjected to humiliations by the administration and security agencies. If the government really wants to help us they must make sure of the freedom of the press in the Valley. The Press Club can wait but not the freedom of press." 
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