Media Unwelcome: Restrictions in Leh Mar Reporting on Ladakh Face-Off

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A TV journalist reporting the Galwan face-off from the terrace of a hotel in Leh.

“They (TV reporters) are filming the mountain passes from their hotel terrace which means they have to rely on the scenes from the city to tell the story happening 300 km away.”

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

SRINAGAR – Journalists who have flown to the Himalyan region of Ladakh to cover the India-China border face-off complained that they were unable to discharge their duties due to the restriction on their movement. They are not allowed to move beyond the Leh city limits.

The restrictions on their movement are making it difficult for reporters to do ground reporting for which they had flown to the region. They have no option but to rely on phone calls or meet people in the hotels where they are put up for reporting assignment.

Speaking to Clarion India, reporter of a national daily who has been camping in Leh for the past two weeks, said no journalist is allowed to even go up to Changla Pass leave alone Galwan valley, the place where armies of the two countries have fought a bloody battle two weeks ago.

Galwan is a barren valley surrounded by rocky mountain terrain that has become the epicenter of the renewed conflict between India and china. Early June, reports emerged that the People Liberation Army (PLA) occupied nearly 60 sq kilometers of the land that was previously under India control.

There were several rounds of meetings between commanders of the two armies, but they all failed to de-escalate the situation and eventually on the night of June 15, a violent clash broke out between the soldiers of the two armies in the valley. While nearly two dozen Indian army men were reportedly killed, reports suggest there was no exchange of bullets in the clash.

Officials and the armies of the two countries have been guarded while revealing the entire story so far. Hence, most of the reports in the media have cited unnamed sources in the army or civil officials.

On June 17, two days after the Galwan clash, a group of journalists in Srinagar set off on road to Ladakh. But, they were stopped by police close to Sonmarg, 50 km from Srinagar. They were not allowed to visit the ground zero to cover the “most important story”.

Days later, some of them followed the circuitous route and flew to Delhi first, from where they boarded the plane to Leh. In Leh, the journalists have been largely unable to capture the reactions of the public on the developments at the border.

“I have met some local politicians in a hotel for their reaction,” said a stringer working for an international newspaper. “It was tough to convince them to come to the hotel. They were worried that they might be reprimanded either by their parties or officials.” After a few days, he confided that even they stopped picking up our calls.

Economic Times had reported that the military and the police are mapping the movement of every journalist arriving in the city.

The journalists, on their arrival, have to undergo seven-day quarantine at their hotel. This means the journalists who plan to come for a two-day trip end up spending weeks.  “Those who attempt to violate (the orders) by trying to venture out are threatened with police action,” the reporter said.  “It is an alibi for the authorities to keep us at bay.”

He revealed that the district administration did not give them the inner line permit pass required for non-residents of an area to venture beyond a certain limit. They were told that issuing of passes has been suspended. Some of them were allowed to go to a neighbouring town two weeks after they arrived in Leh. “Basically, we are not welcome here,” he added.

Even TV reporters and prominent anchors have been unable to move beyond the Leh city limits. “They are filming the mountain passes from their hotel terrace which means they have to rely on the scenes from the city to tell the story happening 300 km away,” the stringer said.

A journalist associated with an international news agency alleged that authorities did not want the media there. He said, “It was quite evident from their behaviour that they did not want us to tell the story to the world.”

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