Petition in SC seeking removal of restrictions on media in J&K

NEW DELHI, Aug 10: A petition was on Saturday filed by an editor of a prominent daily from Jammu & Kashmir in the Supreme Court, seeking removal of restrictions imposed on working of journalists in the state after scrapping of provisions of Article 370.
Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times, has sought directions for restoration of all modes of communication, including mobile internet and landline services, throughout the state in order to provide an enabling environment for media persons to practice their profession.
In the petition, the editor said she is seeking a direction for the Centre and the J&K administration to immediately relax all restrictions on freedom of movement of journalists and media personnel in Kashmir and some districts of Jammu.
The direction was sought in order to enable media persons to practice their profession and exercise their right to report in furtherance of their rights under Article 14, 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g) and 21 of the constitution, as well as the right to know of the residents of the Kashmir valley, the petition said.
In the petition, the editor said that since 4 August, all connectivity was shut down, leaving Kashmir and some districts in Jammu completely isolated and cut off from all possible modes of communication and information.
“No formal orders, under which such action was taken, were communicated by the Centre and state administrators, and power and authority under which such excessive and arbitrary action was ordered is still unknown to the petitioner,” the plea said.
“The communication blockade and strict restrictions on movement of journalists resulted in a virtual blackout and media reporting and publishing was grievously impacted,” it said.
It said on 5 August, orders under Section 144 of the CrPC were issued and all of Kashmir was placed under a de facto curfew and severe restrictions imposed on movement.
Press identity cards of reporters were not given any attention and they were effectively disabled from reporting on the situation by restricting their movement, the petition said, adding that due to severe and pervasive restrictions imposed by authorities the Srinagar edition of the Kashmir Times could not be distributed and circulated on 5 August.
The editor submitted that since 6 August the newspaper’s Kashmir edition has not been printed and published as complete and absolute restrictions on communication services and movement has resulted in the imposition of a de facto blockade on media activities, including reporting and publishing on the situation in the valley.
“In view of the absolute and debilitating curtailment of the right to report of the press and media and the violation of petitioner’s right to practice her profession, the petitioner is constrained to approach this court under Article 32 of the constitution, seeking immediate and appropriate relief for safeguarding the rights available under Article 14, 19 (1) (a), and 19 (1) (g) and 21 of the constitution filed thorough advocate Vrinda Grover,” it said.
In the petition, the journalist has sought a direction for the Centre and the state administration to take all necessary steps to ensure free and safe movement of reporters, journalists and other media persons.
Further, the petitioner has sought framing of guidelines to ensure that the right and means of media persons to report and publish news is not unreasonably curtailed through the issuance of orders by the authorities or any other authority suspending telecom or internet services.
The journalist has also sought a direction for setting aside or quashing any and all orders, notifications, directions or circulars, whatever the case maybe, issued by authorities, under which all modes of communication, including internet, mobile and fixed landline telecommunication services, have been shut down, suspended or in anyway made inaccessible or unavailable in any locality, area, district or division or region of the state for being ultra vires of the constitution.

EGI concerned over communication shutdown
The Editors Guild of India (EGI) also expressed deep concern on Saturday over the continued shutdown in communication links with the Kashmir valley and the consequent “curtailment of the media’s freedom and ability” to report fairly on the developments there.
The guild’s statement came days after the government revoked the provisions of Article 370 of the constitution in Jammu & Kashmir to withdraw the special status given to the state and bifurcated it into two union territories – Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The guild said while some visiting journalists might be able to file their reports once they were out of the Valley, the lockdown was almost “total and draconian” for the vibrant local media organisations that were the first eyes and ears on the ground.
The government knew very well that it was impossible to process and publish news now without the internet, it said.
The government owed it to the people of the country, including those in Jammu & Kashmir, to allow the press, a vital institution of democracy, to function freely, the guild said.
It added that it was deeply concerned over the continued shutdown in communication links with the Kashmir valley and the consequent “curtailment of the media’s freedom and ability” to report fairly and accurately on current developments.
In a situation such as that prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir at present, the role of a free media, unhindered by such restrictions, becomes critically important in helping in dissemination of news and in its democratic duty of keeping a watch on institutions of the government and security, the guild said.
“The guild underlines the imprudence in creating an unfair distinction in the treatment: for access, curfew passes, communication between local journalists and those coming in to report from outside. All journalists and all Indian citizens are entitled to equal freedom,” the statement said.
The guild urged the government to take immediate steps to restore normalcy for the media’s communication links. Media transparency had always been and should be India’s strength, not fear, it said.
The guild also expressed its appreciation for and solidarity to all journalists reporting from the ground despite unprecedented challenges.
“The guild requests all, especially the government, to ensure their safety and freedom of movement,” the statement said. (PTI)