Keeping accreditated journalists out of government events and government offices, under one ruse or the other, has become such a norm in State after State that it barely attracts any more than momentary attention.
But when six accomplished journalists are kept out of the Republic Day function in Jammu & Kashmir, a state the Narendra Modi government has pushed to the brink and beyond, it is time to sit up and take note.
For, those barred were not rookie reporters but photo and video journalists representing international agencies like Associated Press, Reuters and AFP.
Mehraj-ud-Din, bureau chief, Associated Press Television
Umar Mehraj, video journalist, Associated Press Television
Tawseef Mustafa, photojournalist, AFP
Danish Ismail Wani, photojournalist, Reuters
Bilal Ahmad Bhat, bureau chief, ANI
Atman Farooq, photojournalist, Daily Kashmir Uzma
And more importantly, the bizarre reason trotted out for their exclusion: that the CID report on these journalists was “adverse”.
The Sunday Express has telling reactions some of them.
# “I have covered dozens of Prime Ministerial visits, and have never faced a problem like this. This is the first time in my 28-year career that I have seen this situation in Kashmir,” said Tawseef Mustafa of AFP, who has covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
# “I have been in this profession for more than two decades now. I hold a passport that was issued after proper verification. I do not know what adverse things they have found against me all of a sudden,” said Danish Ismail.
# “In my 40 years in the profession, this is the first time that such an unfortunate incident has happened. We have worked in the worst conditions in Kashmir, but have never faced such a problem,” said Mehraj-ud-Din.
Political parties and media bodies condemned the incident and the “concerned authorities” have promised action, but quite clearly, something is afoot in Kashmir vis-a-vis cameramen and photographers, especially those reporting for foreign news agencies.
Just last week, pellet guns were fired at them, although they wore press jackets, carried press cards, waved their cameras and shouted they were from the press.
And, in December 2018, the visa of Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photographer Cathal McNaughton was not renewed, denying his entry back into India, because he had “violated conditions by travelling to restricted and protected areas in Jammu & Kashmir without permission”.