With no internet and mobile services in Kashmir for over 40 days now, journalists in the Valley have been hard-pressed as a make-shift media centre set up here by the government continues to be the only connection for many with the rest of the world.
The restrictions were imposed across Kashmir on the evening of August 4 – a day before the Centre announced the abrogation of Article 370 provisions and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.
Even though landline phones have been restored early this month, mobile services and internet – on any platform – remain snapped. Harried journalists are now demanding that the government should at least restore broadband connections of media houses.
“We have minimal contact with our head office. We are often outside our offices here for assignments or something else and it is difficult for the head office or even our family to reach us in the absence of mobile phone services,” Irfan Ahmad, a senior photojournalist, said.
Another local journalist, Mudasir, who works for a daily newspaper, said information gathering has suffered due to the communication restrictions.
“We often do not know what is happening in the city and information from other districts is hard to come by. We have to rely on official versions of the events or incidents. Reaching officials or sources especially in the other districts is very difficult,” he said.
During the first few days after the restrictions were imposed, the journalists could not file any stories except for the TV reports using the channels’ outdoor broadcast vans here.
In the absence of any medium to send the news-reports across the country or outside, some journalists would send their reports on pen drives through flyers at the airport.
The flyers would then contact the offices of the media houses which would collect the drives from him.
Most media organisations, especially TV channels, sent journalists from Delhi to the Valley as their reporters were incommunicado.
Around a week later, the state government’s Department of Information and Public Relations set up a ‘Media Facilitation Centre’ at a conference hall of a local hotel here.
Four computers and a single cell phone were available to cater to hundreds of journalists – both local as well as from outside the state.
“One often had to wait for more than half-an-hour to get a (computer) system. Then the speed was so irritating that the email would take ages to open,” Firdous Ahmad, a local journalist, told PTI.
Journalists have to register themselves before making a call from the cell phone and more often than not, the waiting period would stretch for hours because of the rush.
“We have to write down our names on a register before making a call and then wait for our turn,” Ahmad said.
However, after frequent complaints by journalists, few more computers were added to the centre and the network speed was also upgraded, bringing some relief.
Irfan Ahmad said while the addition of more computers and speed upgrade was a welcome step, media persons are still grappling with a number of problems.
“After completing our assignments and capturing pictures, we have to first go to our respective offices to select and re-size the pictures. Then copy them in a flash drive and head to the media centre to send them. This is so hectic,” he said.
Mudasir said it has been the “longest-ever blockade” of services faced by journalists in the Valley and the government should at least restore broadband or leased-line internet connections of media houses.
“We have seen mobile and internet suspensions, but never before has it been this long for journalists. It has been over 40 days now that we have been deprived of the facilities. In an era when government agencies can monitor anything, why is it so difficult to restore internet lines of media houses?” the journalist said.
While the television channels have outdoor broadcast vans for their reportage, the work of their stringers from other districts across the Valley has been hit.
“We cannot send reports to our offices or to Srinagar as we do not have any media centre in the districts other than Srinagar. We have to travel to the city to hand over reports which are then sent to our channels via the OB vans,” Junaid Ahmad, a stringer with a television news channel said.
Many English and Urdu newspapers have not been published since the restrictions were imposed. Others, who are printing their dailies – though with a reduced number of pages – are not updating their websites because of the absence of internet facilities.
Few dailies like the Kashmir Monitor are updating their websites from Delhi or other places outside the Valley.
Kashmir Press Club (KPC) has expressed serious concern over the continuous communication blockade and demanded lifting of restrictions and restoration of press freedom.
In a statement, the KPC has said that due to unprecedented communication blockade affecting mobile telephony and internet, “journalists have been crippled, overwhelmingly disabling them from reporting the ground situation”.
Since the communication blockade, the Club has taken up the issue with the government authorities on several occasions, urging them to restore mobile phones and internet to journalists and media outlets including newspapers and also the Club itself, the KPC said.
“But all these efforts have proved to be futile as these services have not been restored to journalists till date,” it said.
The body has demanded restoration of internet and mobile facilities to journalists and media outlets in the Valley.