New Delhi, February 26, 2019--The state government of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir should reinstate its advertisements in two major local newspapers or provide an acceptable explanation concerning its decision not to do so, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The administration of Governor Satya Pal Malik, who runs the state government after the local political parties failed to form a government, stopped buying advertising space in two leading dailies, Greater Kashmir and the Kashmir Reader, beginning on February 16, according to The Telegraph newspaper.
"Withholding government-funded advertising to specific newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir without a public explanation reeks of censorship," said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. "The government should not wield newspaper ad spending as a tool to influence the flow of information."
Sajjad Haider, editor of the Kashmir Observer newspaper and vice president of the Kashmir Editors Guild union, told CPJ that government advertising is a major source of revenue for newspapers in the state. "In absence of a robust private sector, all newspapers are dependent on government advertisement," he said.
Several industry groups and political parties have opposed the move, according to the Kashmir Reader, including the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which said that the government was "exerting financial pressure" on the dailies in a "futile attempt to manipulate the news narrative."
Other papers in the region continue to receive the government advertisements, a local newspaper editor explained to CPJ. The editor did not want to be named, fearing that the state government would retaliate by cutting advertisements to the paper where they work.
According to a statement issued by the editors guild on February 22, the newspapers were not formally informed of any reason for the advertisements' removal.
A journalist at Greater Kashmir, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the paper, told CPJ that the decision looks to be part of the government's crackdown on reporting covering separatism in Jammu and Kashmir following a February 14 terror attack in the state.
CPJ was unable to reach the editor of Greater Kashmir for comment.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Kashmir Reader Chief Editor Hayat Mohammad Bhat also expressed surprise at this decision by the state government. He said that the paper's manager was told by the Directorate of Information and Publicity in Srinagar that the directorate was ordered to "hold back advertisements to the paper."
CPJ tried to reach Bhat directly but calls made to his number were not returned.
Gulzar Ahmed Shabnam, director of information and public relations for Jammu and Kashmir state, and Rohit Kansal, the governor's spokesperson, did not reply to CPJ's text messages requesting comment.
CPJ's reporting has shown increasing restrictions on the press in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier this month, Kashmir Narrator reporter Asif Sultan was charged under the anti-terror act. In January, the state government stopped journalists from covering a Republic Day function. In December, Reuters' chief photographer in Delhi, Cathal McNaughton, was denied reentry into the country after he travelled to Jammu and Kashmir without government permission.