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Kashmir’s new “fake news” law is an obvious censorship vehicle

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While the West becomes increasingly interested in cracking down on what authorities deem to be “misinformation” and receives surprisingly little pushback from journalists and media, in the East it’s often a different story – where the creep of censorship is decades old and speech control has been in place long enough for the effects to enact significant damage.

Singapore’s “fake news” law has already been used to silence political opinion. ? Brazil’s law has been slammed by civil rights groups. Other countries have looked to implement similar censorship practices, and in the United States, private corporations and activists have been the main instigators of censorship.

The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government’s implementation of the so-called Media Policy 2020, which empowers government officials to decide what is considered “fake news” and what is not, has greatly mortified many journalists in the state, who are right to fear that the law could mean the end of ethical journalism in the area.

We have previously documented internet shutdowns and censorship in the region and citizens now have this new obstacle to face.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been a center of journalistic conflict for decades. Reporting about the latest events is not easy for those who dedicate their lives to it, not only because of the delicate political situation in the state but also because of the obstacles that the government puts in the way of the reporting. Although this is nothing new, censorship in the region has intensified since June thanks to the enactment of the new media law, which has caused many journalists to speak out and protest.

The law enacted on June 2, 2020, establishes that all journalistic content must be previously verified by a government official who will be in charge of determining if it does or does not commit plagiarism or the spread of false information. Journalists are concerned that this is another government attempt to control the information that is made public, which would eventually turn all the media into a tool for political propaganda in favor of the state.

Veteran journalist Khursheed Wani, who started his career in 1998, indicated that Kashmir has never been an easy state in which to work. During the 19 years he worked as bureau chief for The Pioneer, he has witnessed how the authorities have harassed the media and journalists on multiple occasions. Although this has never prevented them from performing their duties, the situation may be somewhat different this time, since rather than hindering the work, the government is seeking to be part of it, controlling what can be published.

The subject has been so complex that even researchers have spoken about it. Raashid Maqbool, a media researcher at the University of Kashmir, said he agrees that the government has always tried to limit the journalist’s duties, but had never opted for such a radical censorship approach.

“If we look at the media history of Kashmir, local newspapers have been pressurised time and again by the government on the pretext of government advertisements. However, this time the policy is being released to create further press censorship,” said Maqbool to Wire.

The Kashmir Press Club had already reported another similar attack after August 5, 2019. In the words of the organization’s vice president, the government tried to silence journalists using an informative blackout. This would have been a first step that would result in this new media law, which, in his words, aims to end journalism in Jammu and Kashmir.

A month after the enactment of this new law, journalists decided to organize a protest within the Press Colony in Lal Chowk. Their main demand is that the government reconsider the law. Some journalists see no need for a sub-editor to review the content written by journalists, only to have a government official later verify that what the sub-editor accepted complies with the rules. Sub-editors would simply limit themselves to not approving content that could harm the journalist or the publisher, which is self-censorship.

Another of the main reasons why journalists in Jammu and Kashmir protested is that, when this policy was applied, no media outlet was consulted. In fact, just the opposite happened; they have been cracking down on journalists even more, constantly citing them for police intervention.

Another effect this new law is expected to have is on new aspiring reporters. Historically, the profession has not been very attractive to young people. The new law would serve to create greater concern in those who want to dedicate themselves to journalism, who will not feel that they are in a stable job.

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