Srinagar: Kashmiri journalists are facing a defamatory campaign due to a substandard investigation by a reportedly unverified news website which was carried by various Indian media outlets including IANS and Zee News allegedly without any fact-checking.
The “smear campaign” against various journalists mostly working with Turkey-based international media organisations like Anadolu Agency and TRT is being seen as “motivated” by journalist bodies in the region, who have also termed the vilification campaign as “dangerous.”
The Kashmir Press Club, a journalist body which is led by members belonging to nearly a dozen local media unions, condemned the campaign against Kashmiri journalist Baba Umar, who is currently working with TRT as a senior producer. Umar is based in Istanbul since he joined TRT in 2017, after his stints with various Indian and international media organisations like Tahelka, BBC and Al-Jazeera.
Umar has been falsely charged among many other Kashmiri journalists of having alleged links with Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a claim that the journalists and fact-checkers termed as baseless.
The KPC termed the article against Umar, first carried by a lifestyle news outlet Greek City Times, as “factually incorrect and a libellous article” which was later amplified by Zee News and IANS without fact checking or seeking the version of Umar.
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According to Alt-news, the Greek City Times had lifted the information from an unknown website called the Disinfo Lab, which the fact-checkers termed as “false.”
"By saying I was engaged in carrying out motivated anti-India propaganda, some of the Indian news organisations have tried to damage my reputation, and now my family will have to live with the repercussions of such unfounded, callous, hateful, and motivated news reporting that also has prejudice, anti-minority, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic undertones," Umar’s statement read.
The KPC has sought an “unconditional apology” from the Sydney-based site and urged it to pull down the report, which according to them contained “malicious content” targeting the Kashmiri journalists community.
The press body, while expressing solidarity with colleagues targeted through this smear campaign including Baba Umar, also stated that it supports their right to take legal action against the perpetrators of this fake smear campaign.
Earlier, an independent European Union-focused organisation which investigates disinformation, had alleged that there are over 750 fake media outlets -- not linked to the Indian government – that uses wire network Asian News International (ANI) to create a web of disinformation and fake news to serve Indian interests and vilify neighbouring Pakistan.
Ishfaq Tantray, journalist and general secretary of KPC, sees the fresh campaign against Umar and others as a coordinated attack on Kashmiri journalists to endanger both their lives and livelihood.
“It is a smear campaign to give a bad name to Kashmiri journalists who are working with reputed new organisations and this needs to be called out without delay. These unscrupulous news outlets are damaging our honest work and at the same time creating targets out of media personnel which is dangerous and unfortunate,” Tantray told NewsClick.
The campaign against Kashmiri journalists comes at a time when international rights bodies and media watchdogs have expressed concern over media’s working conditions in the region and said that it is under duress.
Also read: Media Policy 2020: Mocking Freedom of Speech and Expression in Jammu and Kashmir
Several journalists have reportedly been slapped with serious charges related to terror and law and order like the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and many others summoned, threatened, beaten-up and coerced to reveal their sources especially after the abrogation of Article 370 in the region on August 5, 2019. Many in Kashmir believe that the defamation of journalists is part of various attempts of intimidation to "silence" media in the region.
Journalist Asif Sultan has been detained since August 2018, under UAPA for allegedly having links with a militant outfit, a charge that he and those close to him have denied. International journalist bodies like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have been urging the authorities to release him.
The trial of the 32-year-old journalist, who won the prestigious International John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award in 2019, will now be monitored by The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), established by actor George Clooney and prominent lawyer Amal Clooney.
“The Clooney Foundation for Justice calls on the authorities to ensure that Sultan’s bail hearing is conducted in accordance with international human rights law and any proceedings against him respect his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression,” a CFJ spokesperson said in a statement issued on February 27.