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Kashmir Newz Specials

How Kashmir CM ensures a good press

by Haroon Mirani

Nov 04, 2006:

In his one year in office Chief Minister of Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad has got what is typically called a good press.
Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad
Chief Minister G N Azad

Coverage which any head of state would envy. No criticism worth mentioning, load full of praise, glamorous photos and all. The CM is being projected as the ruler of that illusive utopian state.

The credit for this good press goes to state Information Department, which has been using a 'carrot and stick policy' to handle the local newspapers with ruthless efficiency. Sources indicate that Chief Minister Azad is very sensitive to critical stories, and the Information Department has been doing its best to avoid criticism of CM in the local press.

On October 02, 2006 a local news agency released a news item about the bad image of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The news item was carried next day by one newspaper in the valley only to lose valuable government ads the next day.

The daily government advertisements to the newspaper were reduced from 100 square centimetres to just ten centimetres.

Newspaper editors say the information department has strictly carried out the 'carrot and stick policy' and the level of tolerance for stories critical of CM is ‘negligible’.

Newspapers that publish positive news items of the CM are awarded with enhanced ad quota and those who dare to publish any news item against the CM are punished with ad curtailment.

In the absence of major industries and business houses most of the newspapers operating in the Kashmir dependent on the revenue coming from government ads. Advertisement rates have doubled in this year and newspapers owners prefer not to risk their revenue, and meekly adhere to the unwritten guidelines.

"It is not just the government, the newspaper editors are equally at fault. It is they who submit meekly" Says Raashid Ahmad a media watcher.

Newspaper owners have their explanation. "We are dependent on the government ad revenue. If we take cudgels our survival becomes difficult. So it is better to report only as much as we can," says an editor of a local newspaper on condition of anonymity.

Sources in the government indicate that doubling the advertisement rates was 'a ploy to make newspapers more dependent' and 'this ploy worked well'.

Local newspapers are appeasing the government with more coverage of CM and black out any negative news item.

"The situation is such that even thinking about the negative image of CM is considered blasphemy. The objectivity is long lost in this financial rat race." says Raashid Ahmad.

To rein in bigger publishing houses, the government has other incentives to offer. They are provided with government accommodation and other benefits for getting in tune with the government line.

A preliminary survey by Kashmir Newz found only six news items aimed directly at inefficiency of Azad published in local newspapers in past one year. Most of them were carried by only one newspaper. When Kashmir Newz tried to contact the newspaper, they declined to talk about it.

"It is heartening to know that all the ten major newspapers of the state have not even dared to write about any shortcoming of Azad during the last one year," says Sajjad Ahmad a student at the University of Kashmir.

"I would blame the newspapers for their cowardice, they are becoming loyal than the king" says Ahmad.

Newspaper men however complain the press curbs have reached unprecedented levels.

"Information department has always been manipulative. They have always tried to control the newspapers, but this much of intolerance is unprecedented," says another newspaper editor, again on condition of anonymity.

"Mufti Mohammed Sayeed got a mix of good press and bad press. One could write against him without much harm. Farooq Abdullah had a lot of criticism during his reign. But with Azad there is no margin," he added.

Image building
With Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting P R Dass Munshi
Sources reveal that Azad is not content with his media image and to enhance it, he appointed a media adviser to himself, in spite of a full fledged information department working overtime to paint him glorious all the time.

The intolerance is not limited to newspapers. According to sources Azad has expressed his reservations for the popular radio programme Shaharbeen broadcast by the state run Radio Kashmir Srinagar. The programme is based on current affairs and usually takes up problems and issues of local people.

A media team from Doordarshan and All India Radio which visited Kashmir recently were shocked when Azad reprimanded them for airing the popular current affairs programme. Sources say he even asked them to take it off the air, as it is 'threatening his chair'.

Every year the information department provides crores of rupees to big and small newspapers as ad revenue. A large number of these ads are published in small time newspapers with circulations not crossing four figures.

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