Ban on media against democracy

Two separate events in different parts of the country show how free speech and the rights of the media can easily be attacked and curbed in the country. Last week, the Jammu & Kashmir government banned Kashmir Reader, a newspaper published from Srinagar, on the ground that its contents ‘can cause incitement to acts of violence and disturbance of public tranquility. Journalists in Kerala have been unable report the proceedings of the Kerala High Court and some lower courts for over two months because of threats and acts of violence by lawyers who have denied them entry into the court premises. The threat came from different sources in the two cases but the effect has been denial of the people’s right to know and the right of the media to discharge its professional duties. There has been no relief in spite of continued protests against the highhanded actions.

Bans on newspapers and media channels, censorship and other methods of preventing information from reaching the people are against the spirit of democracy and a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Governments in Kashmir have resorted to all these methods in the past. The ban on Kashmir Reader was imposed arbitrarily. It was not asked to give an explanation for any report or comment it had published. If it had carried any objectionable material it could have been prosecuted under relevant provisions of the law. It is not considered to have published anything which other newspapers have not. The government clamped down on the newspaper perhaps to send out a warning to others. The media is under heavy pressure in Kashmir. Some weeks ago, the government had shut down all printing presses and temporarily banned all newspapers for three days. Other channels of information including social media have also faced controls and curbs. Media freedom is especially relevant and important in disturbed conditions like those in Kashmir. Violation of normal constitutional rights can only worsen the situation, and it cannot be justified on any pretext.

In Kerala, lawyers who felt aggrieved about the report of a case of misconduct against one of their own have prevented media persons from entering the court. Media personnel were attacked and manhandled. Interventions by the government and other agencies have not helped to end the standoff. Decisions taken at meetings held by the chief justice have not been honoured. Blocking legitimate access to courts and preventing judicial proceedings from being reported amounts to denial of media freedom. People have the right to know what happens in the court and the lawyers cannot deny it. Unfortunately no authority is able to enforce the right.

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