Concerns as Kashmir police ban live media coverage of gunbattles

Journalists and media organisations in Indian-administered Kashmir say they are concerned over a new directive issued by the police prohibiting reporters from approaching the sites of gun-battles and covering “law and order” situations, saying it puts the “national security in jeopardy”.

In the directive issued late on Tuesday, the disputed region’s police chief, Inspector General Vijay Kumar, asked media personnel “not to come closer to encounter sites” and “not carry live coverage of any encounter” with armed rebels, who for decades have been fighting for either an independent Kashmir state or its merger with neighbouring Muslim-majority Pakistan.

The region’s police said “freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions” and asked the media not to “interfere in professional and bonafide duty” of police and security forces at the sites of “encounter”, as gun fights with rebels are called.

“No operational content should be carried which is likely to incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of [law and order] or which promotes anti-national sentiment,” said the directive.

An Indian soldier gestures towards media personnel to move back as police and army soldiers launch an operation in Awantipora area, south of Srinagar [File: Dar Yasin/AP]The order has been criticised by a dozen Kashmiri journalist groups. “If this is a part of the official policy of police then it appears to be a tactic to coerce journalists into not reporting facts on the ground,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“It also seems to be a part of the string of measures taken by the authorities to suppress freedom of press in the region. Summoning journalists to police stations, filing FIRs and seeking informal explanations for their work has intensified in the past two years,” it added.

The statement said Kashmiri journalists “have worked under tremendous pressure for the past several decades and despite facing threats to life, liberty and property, they upheld the principles of journalism and reporting”, adding that “such attacks on press freedom and journalism is highly distressful”.