September 1999 News

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Hurriyat makes rounds on polling day in new media avtar

6 September 1999
The Indian Express
By: Ashwani Talwar & Tariq Bhat

SRINAGAR: A Hurriyat News Service? The media-savvy All Party Hurriyat Conference might be getting there, giving the government's own publicity department a run for its money.

On the way to Chrar-e-Sharief, The Indian Express came across a car with a bold wind-screen sticker proclaiming PRESS. Just like any other Press vehicle carrying media persons around Srinagar constituency on polling day. But at the wheel was a familiar face, an activist of the separatist APHC.

The Hurriyat, which has been aggressively campaigning for a poll-boycott, has an explanation for this. When contacted by this paper, the Hurriyat maintained there had been no attempt to mislead anyone. The Tata Sumo spotted by the reporters was actually a Press vehicle, carrying people from an Urdu daily.

The Hurriyat activist just happened to be driving the vehicle for the newspapermen, the explanation went.

The Hurriyat member said they had six or seven of their own vehicles on the road on Sunday, touring the constituency on a mission to gather "facts". They supposedly carried labels saying "APHC", the organisation which has been aggressively campaigning for a poll boycott.

By the end of the day, the Hurriyat had something to show for its efforts. It summoned a Press conference at 5.00 p.m., an hour after polling closed. And an hour before the state's Chief Electoral Officer(CEO) was to address the media persons.

The official briefing was abruptly cancelled while the Hurriyat produced its line up of leaders only recently released after being taken into custody for "intimidating" voters at their press conference. And to liven things, they ran a videotape.

The video showed slogan-shouting villagers at Kandoora village in Beerwah after a National Conference MLA had opened fire; the scene at the Srinagar hospital where the injured were taken; and an anti-election protest at Maisuma in Srinagar city.

There were even a few sound bytes from officials and couple of men from paramilitary forces, generally talking about the low turnout. Had the men from central paramilitary forces confused the Hurriyat team for journalists? It is not clear.

The Hurriyat distributed a five-page document at the press conference. it included a list of 59 booths visited by a "reporter, photographer, videographer and others," led by Moulvi Mohammad Ashraf, Advocate. For each booth, the report mentioned the total registered voters and the votes cast when what appears to be the Hurriyat News Service visited.

The other briefing of the evening - by the CEO, organised by the state government's Information department - was however abruptly cancelled. In a departure from precedent, the Election Commission has ruled there would be no polling-day Press conferences by the CEOs in the state. The only official briefing will be in Delhi.

The Commission has no objection if the CEOs in the state issue a press-release giving details of the turnout and the main incidents of violence during polling. But the Commission apparently feels the CEOs can't take questions.

Newsman were disappointed. The official Press conference is a chance to confront the Election Commission representative to get more details on reports on polling day incidents. If nothing else, it ensures that false reports don't get into print.

The Election Commission had also shot down some other plans made by the Information Department. Like last year, the department wanted to conduct press persons in and around the constituency in their cars. And it also wanted to fly a media team to Kargil to witness the polling here.


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