How Saboteurs Held Sway At Kashmir Press Club

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We all need to stand up against the false narrative that these so-called champions of press freedom have been promoting at the behest of Pakistan stooges 

January 8, 2018. A motley group of journalists converged at the posh Poloview area to take charge of a government-owned building that was to be converted into the first Press Club of Kashmir. The event was momentous. After years of toil and hard work, journalists in Kashmir were to get an address which belonged to them all. They could now come together at a place where they would interact, engage and even entertain themselves as they had never experienced such a facility before.  They got the address in 2018 after hectic efforts by many senior journalists including Bashir Manzar, Manzoor Anjum, M Saleem Pandit, Mehrajuddin, Farooq Javed, Habibullah Naqash and others. The Press Club became a reality.

Why I Am Withholding My Name

These Pakistan stooges who headed the Press Club earlier have vitiated the atmosphere so much that even as I write the truth, I am withholding my name. They are all networked with the terror ecosystem sponsored and funded by Pakistan. For their masters, Kashmiri lives hold no value.

After Elections In July 2019, The Club Fell Into Wrong Hands

The founders of Kashmir Press Club did not know that after elections to the managing body would be held, the club would fall into wrong hands. Elections to the club were held in July 2019. New faces emerged on the scene who managed to gain entry as its office bearers owing to an alliance cobbled up by the Kashmir Editors Guild (now invalid). The new faces took upon the task to work out a plan that was dictated by personal greed and lust for power. They sidelined the Executive Members of the club who too had been elected and had got more votes than the office bearers. The Executive Members were not involved in any decision-making or informed about policy decisions and statements. The constitution of the Press Club does not allow the office bearers or the executive members to issue statements on any policing or security activities in Kashmir. The mandate of the press club is and will be beyond this.

Angry At Managing Body, Two Executive Members Did Not Attend Meetings, Two Resigned

Nevertheless, the managing body of the Press Club continued to issue statements against the state and security apparatus (Details in separate section of report). This was the reason that two executive members of the club Altaf Baba and Habibullah Naqash did not attend any meeting of the top management of the club during their two-year term. The same stands true for Arshid Ahmad, another Executive Member. He quit the club to protest what he called the dictatorial attitude of the office bearers. Another Executive Member Shafat Kira also quit the club in 2020 alleging non-involvement of the executive members in the club affairs. His resignation was not accepted. The office bearers of the Press Club were carrying out these arbitrary activities in connivance with some ‘selected’ executive member. They took virtual control of the club without showing any regard for the constitution of the club. The office bearers followed dictations from some unknown quarters and stuck to a particular line of thought by issuing statements and pretending to be champions of journalists’ rights.

No Welfare Initiative For Scribes Who Needed Help

It is a matter of concern that the former managing committee did not introduce any welfare measures for those journalists who work for local and other small media organizations where the perks and other benefits are not enough to suffice their needs. The club failed to introduce even a single welfare scheme or even discuss it with concerned quarters including the government.

SOME QUESTIONS FORMER PANEL MUST ANSWER

The body which claimed to be representatives of the Press Club and the fraternity at large need to answer some questions before the journalist community and the people.

* Why did these “champions of journalists’ rights” display utter disregard for the constitution of the club by continuing to be in office even after their term ended on July 14, 2021?

* Who gave them the authority to override the KPC constitution and take all major and minor decisions involving even financial matters after their term was over?

* The majority of the members of the Executive Committee wanted to nominate a working committee to fulfill the day-to-day requirements of the club and form an election commission for conduct of fresh elections. Why did the managing committee of the club not agree to this?

* Why did they continue to spend funds and allocate the club canteen at will?

* Why did they fail to introduce even a single welfare scheme for those journalists who faced tremendous stress after the pandemic when they lost their jobs and earnings?

Grants Sanctioned By Govt Not Utilized

The money generated by the membership contributions and the huge amount sanctioned by the government for KPC was not utilized. The gymnasium and library established at the club remained defunct, despite huge money being spend on purchases of second-hand machines and outdated equipment. Ironically, the club even failed to initiate short term courses and training workshops for young and budding journalists. The office bearers cited paucity of funds as one of the reasons. This was ignored, even though it was the prime mandate of the club was ignored. No initiative was taken to involve others on this important responsibility of the club. Sources in the club claimed that five erstwhile KEG members contributed Rs 50,000 (Rs 10,000 each) for the conduct of the workshops. The money was utilized for some petty purchases.

Why The Managing Committee Had To Be Removed

Now that the club office bearers continued to act arbitrarily, a need was felt by the local journalists to keep the prying office bearers out of the day-to-day functioning of the club. A temporary managing committee was set up to conduct the affairs of the club and manage fresh elections. Ironically, the exposed and out-of-job office bearers saw it as the end of their hegemony and their self-created power structure. They raised a hue and cry ignoring the basic principles and the constitution that governs Kashmir Press Club. All-out efforts were made to project the new managing body as government-sponsored. Statements were generated from Pakistan decrying the takeover of the new management.

Now that the KPC building has been taken over by the government and the club is facing a crisis owing to it being a non-registered body, the onus of dragging the club to this point falls directly on the former office bearers who did not want to lose the power structure that they had created in their favour. Their actions smack of sinister designs. These very people had been vociferous opponents of establishing a press club in Kashmir. When the club building was to be handed over to journalists, these so-called champion reporters associated with two private news channels met the former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and tried to persuade her to rethink her decision to provide a government building for the press club.

Damning Tweets And Posts Part Of Subterfuge At Play In Kashmir

The tweets emerging from some journalists regarding the change of guard at the club are hilarious. Peerzada Ashiq, correspondent for The Hindu tweeted: “August 5, 2019 is not mere a date, but an act which is being implemented and normalised in Kashmir on a daily basis. Ending Kashmir Press Club for merely being a space of safety and collective thinking for scribes is unfortunate and saddening, threatening too.” Such tweets and posts are part of the subterfuge daily at play in Kashmir. The recent developments that have come to the fore in the media fraternity have brought out various truths and untruths that need examination. We all need to stand up against the false narrative that these so-called champions of press freedom have been promoting at the behest of Pakistan stooges who believe in spilling of blood of innocents for achieving their self-centered goals. These dual-faced backstabbers need to be held accountable and taken to task.

During Internet Ban, Govt Offered Media Centre At Press Club Thrice

Why Did Managing Committee Reject Offer Every Time?

One of the key issues journalists in Jammu and Kashmir faced on August 5, 2019 was the snapping of internet and other communication facilities. Journalists had to face a lot of inconvenience to file news reports for their respective organizations. The problem was confronted by all journalists. In order to address this challenge, the government established a media centre at a private hotel in Srinagar. But media persons complained of inconvenience at the centre. Within a few days of the communication blockade, the government reached out to the press club office bearers and offered internet connectivity at the club. The officials of the information department even offered computers to be setup at the club premises. This offer was made thrice during September 2019. The offer was rejected by the so-called champions of the journalist rights. The reason cited by the managing body of the club was that the journalists would ‘misuse’ the facility and club office bearers would have to face the ‘consequences’.  Why was the offer made by the government three times rejected? Was it because it would puncture their claims that there was a government-imposed information blockade in Kashmir? The media fraternity needs to ask these self-proclaimed Champions of Journalists Rights: Why did they not accept the government offers to set up a full-fledged media centre in Kashmir Press Club? Why did they stick to this stand when the local scribes faced an uphill task to report their stories? Will this not be called as sabotage by those who claim to represent the media fraternity?

We need answers to these questions in open forums, not in closed-door meetings.

Constant Statements By Managing Body In Contravention Of KPC Constitution

It was not in the constitution of Kashmir Press Club to issue any kind of statement against the police or the administration. Yet the current management had made it the norm to issue statements targeting the UT Administration and the police. Week after week these statements were issued, claiming that journalists are being harassed for carrying out their professional duties in Kashmir. This was not the truth. Journalists were being questioned by the state for their secessionist and lopsided reporting. The truth that none of us admitted was that coloured and biased reporting by some pro-separatist and pro-extremist journalists had been normalized in Kashmir for decades. Why did the previous governments allow this imbalanced reporting to continue earlier? Since separatism ruled in Kashmir, the government willy-nilly turned a blind eye to the distortion of news.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the UT Administration started focusing on the questionable professional conduct of some journalists. Since biased reporting had been normalized, government action was seen as bizarre. Statements were issued against the police officers and bureaucrats who initiated action against subversive reportage. Nobody spoke of the clampdowns imposed by the militants, the horrific diktats issued by them, the siege of Pakistan-sponsored violence over Kashmir. The write-ups and social media posts of these select journalists are always about genocide, suppression, oppression, muzzling of voices, demographic changes etc. We know that this is Pakistan’s international narrative for Kashmir. Is this reporting accurate for the Valley? No.

The mandate of the press club was not to issue statements against the state. The Constitution of the club did not empower the managing body to issue these statements. In a conflict region where nothing can be taken at face value, the club management took it upon itself to be the champion of journalistic rights. Given their personal leanings, the motive of the members of the managing body was to create space for themselves. The Executive Committee of the Press Club raised this issue several times with the managing committee. Their concerns were not heeded.   I remember that once, the IGP of Kashmir called the managing committee of the Press Club for a meeting. He assured them that no action would be taken against professional reporting. Action would be taken only if any journalist tries to subvert peace through his work or through his social media post. The managing committee nevertheless continued with the statements. Once, they issued a statement that a photographer was beaten by the police while photographing some event. The photographer later stated that he had covered the event as usual and had not been beaten by the police or any other security force.

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