Silence, sycophancy, and some spine: How Kashmir newspapers covered the press club ‘takeover’

It found no column space in the valley’s prominent newspapers, save for a handful.

ByRounak Bhat
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Silence, sycophancy, and some spine: How Kashmir newspapers covered the press club ‘takeover’
Kartik Kakar
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On Saturday, days after the process to elect a new council for the Kashmir Press Club was set in motion, the largest association of journalists in the valley witnessed a significant event.

Accompanied by armed forces, a group of 11 journalists entered the club premises and formed an “interim body” to replace the organisation’s previously elected body, whose two-year mandate had ended on July 14 last year.

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Even as the new interim body claimed the takeover was a “unanimous” decision, nine Kashmiri news organisations dubbed the deployment of armed forces as “illegal”, “condemnable” and a “military-style coup”. The Press Club of India called Saturday’s events an attempt to “deliberately derail the democratic process...and throttle the body of journalists”; the Editors Guild followed suit and termed it a “hostile takeover”.

Monday saw the Jammu and Kashmir government cancelling the allocation of premises to the Kashmir Press Club. Expressing its “concern”, the administration said any temporary entity was “rendered infructuous” because the administration’s registration had lapsed.

As things stand now, the Kashmir Press Club stands dissolved, and the Polo View Estates Department has taken possession of the premises.

While this is yet another chapter in a series of press restrictions across Kashmir, how did the mainstream Kashmir print media cover it?

The incident found little to no mention in mainstream newspapers in the valley.

Some silence

Greater Kashmir, which calls itself the “largest circulated English daily” in Jammu and Kashmir, did not have Saturday’s events on its front page on Sunday. In fact, it didn’t carry the news on any of its pages – instead, it reported on the weekend lockdown and general Covid updates. A column was granted to a PTI copy on Army Day celebrations featuring prime minister Modi, army chief Gen MM Naravane and J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha.

One might expect some cream in the editorial sheets but they were devoted to an oped – replete with extra ellipses – on selfies, an explainer on one-time relief to loan defaulters, and, ironically, a vanilla piece titled “Politics everywhere” which featured theories on misread patriotism and how “no person can keep away from the sirens of politics”.

In fairness to Greater Kashmir, its website carried a short piece on the formation of the interim body but with zero mention of coercion or the presence of armed personnel.

Monday’s edition mentioned the press club in an editorial, but couched in vague language: “The details of the event are known to all. There’s no need to carry a microscope to the site...let the Club wade through this crisis gracefully.”

Rising Kashmir, formerly edited by the assassinated journalist Shujaat Bhukhari, skipped the story too. Instead, Sunday’s edition featured a full-page government ad on its front page on the Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana and a radio show by Manoj Sinha.

There was nothing in the inside pages either. Monday’s edition followed suit – not a single news item. Instead, the paper was stuffed with news on welfare schemes launched by the government.

However, its editorial page – which carried pieces on Covid and mental health – ironically had a “quote of the day” by Abraham Lincoln: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”

Rising Kashmir’s online edition had two stories published on January 17 on how the press club has “refuted malicious propaganda” by a “section of media”, and how the Press Club of India, the Editors Guild, and the Mumbai Press Club had presented an “unfortunate” and “one-sided version” of the “otherwise smooth makeover” of the club. The story urged journalist bodies to “know the other side of the story before jumping the gun”.

A third piece mentioned the cancellation of the allotment of the press club’s premises, stating: “The government is concerned over the emergent situation which has arisen due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.”

In its Sunday edition, Kashmir Monitor followed the precedent set by Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir. Page 1 had zero pieces on the press club but several on Covid updates, the lockdown, the weather, and some pleasant local news. The other pages followed suit.

Even its online edition did not have a single report on the press club.

While this was the case with English papers, the Urdu dailies – Daily Uzma, Daily Roshni, and Daily Udaan – did not report on the press club at all.

Some spine

“Coup in KPC: Backed by a posse of security, few journalists taken over”. This was the headline on page 1 of Kashmir Times on Sunday. The strap used words like “illegal”, “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional” to describe the incident, while citing condemnation by press bodies and Newslaundry’s report on what had happened.

The report was accompanied by pictures of armed troops deployed inside the premises of the press club. Underneath, the newspaper also carried a piece on jailed journalist Sajid Gul – another development most newspapers skipped.

It’s important to note that this is the same newspaper whose head office was sealed by the administration in 2020, a move described by its editor Anuradha Bhasin as “political vendetta”.

Kashmir Observer also carried the press club on its front page, deeming it “high voltage drama”, adding that “senior journalist” Saleem Pandit took over the club with “alleged official patronage”, and carried a picture of him with armed forces.

Kashmir Reader was also clear in its stance, saying the club was “illegally taken over by a clique”. It also quoted reactions from former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who had called it a “state sponsored coup”.

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