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India 20 February 2003

Discriminatory use of official advertising in Kashmir

The English-language private daily Kashmir Observer, published in Srinagar (north-west India), has been experiencing serious financial difficulties ever since the Jammu and Kashmir state government decided to stop purchasing advertising space in the publication’s pages.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) is concerned about the consequences of the new provincial government’s discriminatory policies, which could have grave long-term implications for the pluralism of information in the Kashmir region. The organisation has asked Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister, to distribute official advertising among the media of the province in an equitable manner free of political criteria.

At the end of January 2003, the provincial government stopped buying advertising space in the Kashmir Observer newspaper. Some officials confirmed to the newspaper’s editorial staff that the paper had been crossed off the list of media entitled to these contracts.

In an editorial dated 15 January 2003, Sajjad Haider, editor and publisher of the Kashmir Observer, had already objected to the provincial government’s attitude toward his newspaper and their delayed payments for official publicity. "This reluctance to pay advertising invoices is a subtle and insidious form of coercion. The government needs to be reminded that newspapers here are working solely to protect public interest," he wrote. Sajjad Haider is the son-in-law of Molvi Abbas Ansari, one of the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (a separatist alliance). This family tie could well be the motive behind this boycott. The newspaper has also been suspected of illegally holding funds from abroad that are being used to aid the separatist movement.

As a result of the conflict that has been tearing Kashmir apart since 1990, the largest companies have been leaving the province, thus depriving the media of advertising income. Official advertising and announcements therefore represent the main source of financing for Indian dailies like the Kashmir Observer.

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