Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Are cable news channels; Victim or Violators ’ in Kashmir

 IRFAN QURAISHI
SRINAGAR: Amid unrest Jammu and Kashmir government bans five cable news channels that allegedly transmitting various programmes which has created law and order problem in the trouble torn Valley. The move indicates that Mehbooba Mufti led government followed similar path that of Omar Abdullah led previous government by banning cable news channels to save their own skin in current political crises.
In this regard District Magistrate Srinagar has sent notices (vide order number LGL/144-CrPC/4859-60) to SEN Digital Network, JK Media Network Service and Take One Media asking them to block the five news  channels titled KBC News, Gulistan TV, Munsiff TV, JK Channel and Insaaf TV.
The order says that these cable channels transmit programmes which promote hatred, ill-will, disharmony and a feeling of enmity against the sovereignty of State. Adding that, these channels have caused feeling of prejudice to the maintenance of harmony and public peace.
The order further reads that, “whereas, Cable Television Network (Regulation Act, 1995) provides a mechanism to regulate the operation of television network and in order to prevent the breech of peace and to stop incitement and instigation of the public to cause mental and physical threat to particular functionaries of the Government.”
“You are directed to stop telecasting/transmitting of the programmes of these channels failing which action as contemplated under the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act, 1995) will be taken against you,” the order reads.
Worth to mention these news channels are owned by people associated with cable operation in Jammu, Hyderabad and Chandighar. It is believed that these channels are in certain agreement with Kashmir based cable operators to avoid government’s ban on broadcasting news via local cable. These channels are operative in the state after the previous government led by Omar Abdullah bans transmission of local cable news channels following unrest in Valley.
The cable operators of state transmitted these non state small budget channels free of cost through their cable network in the state to get space for Kashmir based programming. According to the experts these banned non local cable channels Gulistan TV, KBC News, Munsiff TV, JK Channel and Insaaf TV were a kind of replacement to states local cable news channels banned during Omar Abdullah’s regime.  
The Valley has been under curfew since the past 42 days after the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani and in several cases it has been found that some television channels (local & national) have in-fact done more harm than good for the state. The Union Government is looking at ways of sensitising national television channels also who have proven to be counter-productive in the Jammu and Kashmir issue, but no action has been initiated against such national channels so far. “Why there is no action on any national channels that are changing the narrative or provoking the agitators in the valley. But local cable channels are axed and become victim of government’s incompetence time and again”, said Iqbal Ahmad, a journalist working with a local daily.

Meanwhile, expressing anguish over the government order the people associated with these channels told this correspondent that government should at least make a distinction between a cable and a satellite channel. “These are all satellite channels which are being aired from outside state of Jammu and Kashmir,” they said and added that Cable Act doesn’t apply to these channels. They further said that the move to bar these channels had “dented the claims” about the improving situation in the Valley.
Pertinently, the channels in question broadcast special news bulletins on Kashmir affairs and they have become much popular among the viewers. The government struggled to control the situation, even blocking mobile internet since July 9. A curfew was imposed, which lasted for 51 days — the longest continuous curfew in the Valley ever. The ban on the channels is also the second media clamp down since unrest set in. The first was a five-day gag on news publications in July when violence in the Valley first escalated.

However the question arises why not Omar led sates government in past or Mehbooba led government at present found any violation before any unrest or political crises in the state. The then State administration in Omar Abdullah’s government had invoked the ban on local TV channels for allegedly violating the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, while broadcasting news in 2008.
It is being alleged that the then Omar government banned these local cable networks to save their own skin from further public outcry due to land transfer agitation followed by double rape and murder in Shopian in 2009 which was followed by the 2010 summer unrest. Prior to the ban factually these cable channels were used by the government and state administration for Public relation and promoting their political activities without any excuse of violating the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act.
Surprisingly in the present regime of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition Government the discriminatory ban continues in Kashmir while their counterparts in Jammu seem to be immune from the act and any violation. The step-motherly treatment has angered the cable operators and public in valley who term the ban as unjust and a tactic to suppress a particular region of J&K.
Now the latest ban of five non local channels run by local cable operators by the PDP led government who was pretending to be a strong voice against the unfair and unjust ban on cable channels during Omar Abdullah regime seems exposing its petty politics.
When asked, the Media Analyst in Chief Minister’s Office, Tahir Syeed said, that these channels were transmitting content that was inciting violence and instigating people to breach peace. “These channels were brought by the local cable operators after previous government banned airing of news on local cable due to 2010 unrest. These cable operators simply tried to avoid the ban on local cable TV and started airing local news through cable channels or low rung satellite channels from other states of the country. Any breach of peace is not acceptable and under cable Regulation Act, cable operators of valley cannot transmit these channels whether cable or satellite that are disturbing harmony and normalcy by broadcasting unethical, uncensored content”, he said. 

Experts said that under Right to Information people have right to know about the happenings around them. Adding that the cable channels have been a source of entertainment for people, however the cable operators can focus on local issue of public importance which national new channels and other regional channels do not perform.

"There was double speak and discrimination by the Omar government which is continued by the Mufti’s government. How can they use the same law differently in two regions of a state? PDP leaders and PDP as a party at large was pretending vocal against the unjustified ban of these channels when it was in opposition but now they followed the same path than to revoke the ban on local ones. This is pity of them“, said Abrar Ahmad Bhat, a journalist who worked with different local cable channels in Kashmir. He adds it is not the law but discrimination by the government. 
Worth to mention, that the prominent Cable TV channels in Kashmir were being operated from Srinagar city besides few more on district levels.  Mouj Kashir (Mother Kahmir), Sen Channel (our channel), Wadi TV (Valley TV),  JK Channel, Take 1 were the cable channels with wide network and viewership. These channels were sources of livelihood to hundreds of media professional forced to face the wrath of political unjust.
JK Channel, Take 1 channel were allowed to carry their operations in Jammu province but gagged in Valley. It is being alleged that the discrimination was politically motivated as the JK channel is owned by the Subhash Chaudhary brother of BJP leader Sham Chaudhary and Take-1 channel is backed by the NC leader Davinder Sigh Rana. Pertinently the JK-Take-1 exerts a monopoly on the lucrative cable TV business in Jammu and Kashmir, which forced Kahsmir based cable operators to protest the monopoly by the Jammu based people several times in past, however went unheard.
Now with the ban of five more non local cable news channels by the PDP-BJP coalition, the livelihood of dozens of media professional have been snatched due to the political unjust amid present political crises in the state. 
Cable operators in Kashmir claim that the cable has given an alternate media to the people to air their grievances. These channels were having a considerable viewership particularly during the prime time because of their proximity to local people. "Cable TV channels have played a role in highlighting our grievances. New Delhi-based media channels don’t find our local grievances newsworthy, state-owned television cannot annoy the officials, so in such a scenario Cable TV was very effective. There have been times when government acknowledged their functioning. Often during important days like January 26 and August 15, these channels were awarded for their functioning”, said Lateef Ahmad, a columnist.
Pertinently the cable operators have braved militant threats to set up a network for cable television in the valley. There have been instances when some separatist outfits asked them to close their operations. Many people associated with cable networks have got killed during the turmoil. The militants many a time have asked the cable owners to suspend their operations for the programs and films showed on it were being used to promote indecency and immorality in the society. At many place grenades were lobbed at the cable offices, hence turns cable business in Kashmir a victim of political insensitivity.

Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He has previously worked for Day & Night News and Kashmir Times. He tweets @ irfanquraishi85.
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