Goebbelsian garb and muzzled media – New media policy, 2020

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The mirage of a Naya Kashmir didn’t end with the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370, media blackout, curfew, internet shutdown, detained opposition, Public Safety Act etc. New media policy added to the litany of measures crafted to build ‘New Kashmir’. New media policy 2020 introduced by Central government in the newly formed union territory of Jammu and Kashmir legitimises state power to catalogue news as false, anti-national or anti-social and disseminate information endorsing the government’s narrative. The state is given unbridled sway over the ‘media functioning’ in the newly created union territory. Directorate of Information and Public Relations is the nodal authority to control the narrative.  They reveal the state surveillance on the flux of information, especially that is critical in nature. Journalists or media persons who disseminate information by breaching governmental guidelines are prone to retribution. New policy initiatives in the most’ frail territory’ reflect the government’s expediency to sift unpalatable facts and spread apodictic rhetoric. Instances of attacks and atrocities against journalists make Kashmir a hellish place for media people to carry out their profession. ‘Information (credible) paralysis’ triggered by a restrained media aggravate the state of ambiguous democracy working in Jammu and Kashmir. Independent media is vital to connect the isolated and struggling Kashmiri population to the stark reality. In contrast, New media policy in the forked territory equates ‘No Media Policy 2020’.

Uncanny ‘Repetition’

One of the provisions of this policy under the subtitle ‘Repetition’ reads ‘wherever possible a repetitive schedule shall be devised for placement of important information to ensure it receives public consideration’. This particular provision is reminiscent of the nazi regime in Germany and manifests a Goebbelsian streak. The genesis of the term ‘Goebbelsian’ goes back to Nazi Germany, and it was formulated by Hitler’s ‘propaganda maker’ Joseph Goebbel. Joseph Goebbel formulated a malicious stratagem to augment Hitler’s support base in the 1930s by the constant spreading of Nazi propaganda until it acquired unwavering public confidence. The gist of the ‘Goebbelsian Policy’ is ‘repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth’. Reiteration of a narrative, which is an ’embodiment of lie’ to the general public ends up becoming truth to the human psyche. Psychology describes this phenomenon as ‘illusion of truth effect’ and was efficiently used by the Nazi regime to hypnotise German minds and establish Hitler’s totalitarianism in Germany in the 1930s.

Renowned Psychologist Tom Stafford says ‘Repetition makes a fact seem more true, regardless of whether it is or not. Understanding this can help you avoid falling for propaganda’. The policy of ‘manufacturing factoids’ takes an ominous nature fudging large scale injustice and atrocities inflicted on the Kashmiri population. The imposition of government propaganda through Goebbelsian technique in a community already suffering from ‘information paralysis’ intensified by internet shutdown and media crackdown since 5th August 2019 implies callous handling of Kashmir imbroglio. In Kashmir, Lieutenant Governor, Girish Chandra Murmu wore the Goebbelsian garb in implementing an arbitrary, draconian and undemocratic media policy. Legitimate obscurantism strengthens the impunity enjoyed by ‘states machinery’, and undisputed governmental narrative renders a totalitarian hue.

Extrajudicial killings (33 civilians killed since 5th August 2019), unmarked graves (more than 2000 as per Indian governments Human rights commission report), radical terrorism (about 35 terror groups operating in Kashmir) exemplify the incessant atrocities inflicted in the region. Stigmatisation and discrimination against Kashmiri Indian citizens by non-Kashmiri Indian citizens and asymmetries in the delivery of human development tools( health, education, employment) substantiate Kashmir’s tag as ‘epicentre of injustice’. In such a grim reality, the centre’s unilateralism kills the ‘spirit of egalitarian democracy’ and camouflages the cloudy and complicit motorisation of administration in the highly volatile region in the country.

Is Kashmir an ‘infernal land’ for Journalism?

The destiny of an intrepid journalist treading in Kashmir to expose the plight of people ends in death or physical assault or illegal incarceration. Kashmir becomes demonstrated as the ‘most unsafe place for journalist’. Attacks against a journalist are so rife in Jammu and Kashmir. Since 5th August 2019 and hitherto, a ‘series of persecution’ has commenced against the journalist. On 20th April 2020, Ashiq, a reporter of The Hindu allegedly apprehended for reporting ‘factually incorrect’ content. The very next day Geelani, a journalist and author of ‘Kashmir-Rage and Reason’ was charged by police invoking a ‘conjuncture’ that the victim is allegedly spreading anti-national discourse through his posts and writings. On 26th April 2020, photojournalist Hazrat Zahra was slapped with Unlawful Activities Prevention Action (UAPA) claiming of promoting enmity between communities. Charging with draconian laws like UAPA without credible evidence to prove the ‘artificial charges’ has become the ‘new normal’ for the journalist to confront. Apart from state captivity, it is onerous to fend off militant monstrosity. In 1990, Doordarshan Director Lassa Kaul, who had been facing the wrath of militants for a while over his reporting in Kashmir was brutally shot to death on the streets in Srinagar. According to Free Press Kashmir, on April 1996, Ghulam Rasol Sheikh, editor in chief of Urdu language daily Rehumia-e-Kashmir and English daily Saffron Times were found his corpse floating in Kashmir’s Jhalak river. Instances of ‘journalist hunting’ never ends as ‘press freedom’ hitherto is choking in between terror breeding militants and Orwellian state machinery.

India’s democratic community has expressed alarming concern over the dropping down to 140th rank (earlier it was 138) in ‘World Press Freedom Index’ released by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (an international non-profit and non-government organisation that safeguards the right to freedom of information). Weakening ‘Press Freedom’ and the state-steered hounding of the journalist( especially in most sensitive regions like Kashmir) is apprehensive.

Concluding Remarks

Suppression of media is not peculiar to current dispensation. Press freedom was suspended when Indira Gandhi proclaimed national emergency (1975-77), during ‘Operation Blue Star(1984) and anti-Sikh genocide(1984) to conceal the state complicity. Recently, the Mumbai police issued a gag order stipulating ‘flaks against the government as crime’. The arbitrary decisions to stifle media and ‘criticising voice’ is incompatible with India’s entrenched democracy. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution bestows the freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of the press is an integral part of freedom of speech and expression (Dr BR Ambedkar didn’t distinguish news and individuals). In the Union of India v/s Association of Democratic Reforms 2002 case, India’s apex court states that ‘One-sided information, misinformation and non-information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions’. Goebbelsian technique and mental seizure shrink citizens rationale to dissent.

According to New Delhi, yes it’s true that ‘terrorism is disrupting the peace and tranquillity of Jammu and Kashmir’. Recently, a congress sarpanch was killed by militants in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. But, persecuting journalists in the name of curbing terrorism sounds ludicrous. ‘Media repression’ in the New media policy, is not a panacea for the grim scenario of Jammu and Kashmir. High unemployment rate ( states own economic survey report of 2016 mentions that unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is higher than the national average, with having 24.6% population in the age group (18-29) unemployed), educational hiatus ( facilitated by lockdown since 5th August), flaws in the public health system and frequent terror incidents is pestering the healthy life of ‘canaille of Jammu and Kashmir’. The government should craft ‘positive measures’ in the sphere of skill development and education, health, employment generation to shore up the floundering community. Conflated with these positive measures, adoption of a ‘comprehensive strategy’ and ‘institutionalisation of international frameworks (UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy) helps to contain terrorism. Embracing the nugget’ human security is equal to national security’, the government should safeguard the security of people, press and most importantly nation without throwing democracy into senile decay.

I don’t agree with a word you say, but I defend to death your right to say

Voltaire

Featured Image Credits: Wikimedia

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