The first casualty of war is said to be truth, a statement attributed to various worthies. In Kashmir, the first casualty of the gathering clouds of war is newspaper freedom.
As India and Pakistan begin shadow-boxing after the deadliest attack in Kashmir in 30 years of militancy, The Telegraph reports that government advertisements have been cut off to two English dailies in the valley Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader for six days.
With “plausible deniability” being standard operating procedure in moves like these, Kashmir Reader says the decision of the state government (now under governor’s rule) has not been communicated to it either verbally or in writing.
Nor have any reasons beens ascribed for the ad freeze.
“The editors of local newspapers, including those of the two dailies, met in Srinagar on Friday to discuss the issue and vowed “to fight the deliberate strangulation and subversion of the institution of the media in the state”.
“We are told that around two dozen more newspapers are under the scanner of security agencies. We have approached the top functionaries of the government but they have expressed helplessness,” an editor who attended the meeting told The Telegraph.
Turning off the tap of government advertising—the lifeline of small and medium newspapers in Kashmir—is a tactic both the Congress and BJP have perfected over the years to get them to toe the establishment line.
In 2015, five newspapers—Rising Kashmir, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma, Itelaat and Kashmir Times—found themselves in the firing line after the Union home ministry said they were “indulging in anti-national activities inimical to the security interests of the country”.
The Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) was accordingly advised “to not give any patronage by the way of advertisements or any other subsidy” to the five newspapers, a ban which was later partially relaxed.
It is unclear what prompted the latest ban, but it is not difficult to guess.