Working on the edge

BY NAZIR GANAIE| IN Regional Media | 26/05/2014
In Kashmir it is killing and killing alone that make the five 'W's and one 'H' for journalists most of the times,

Welcome back alive! That is how I greeted my colleagues who had returned in smashed cars after reporting from various polling booths in South Kashmir on an election day.

Already late in the evening, they rushed to their desks to file stories of the Lok Sabha poll in the constituency, which had registered a successful boycott on account of the call given by the separatists.

Adding to the simmering tension was the fact that a couple of militants had attacked the house of a National Conference leader in Khrew village in south Kashmirs Pulwama district, 10 ten days before it went to polls, killing two policemen.

Although the two suspected militants were killed soon thereafter in an encounter, another militant killed a government teacher deployed on election duty on polling day. Naturally, the situation was volatile and it was unsafe for either voters to turn out to vote or for reporters to cover the election process. In Kashmir it is killing and killing alone that make the five Ws and one H for journalists most of the times.

While covering any form of civil unrest or street protests over minor administrative issues, journalists become the target of security forces, sometimes even the protestors. In recent time, although the law and order situation has relatively improved, cases of broken cameras or punctured vehicles are common with journalists here.

In Kashmir, journalists are always at the receiving end. On April 24, 2014, when a few journalists covering election saw a group of young boys being chased by the police in south Kashmirs Kulgam township, they got down from their vehicles and tried to click pictures of the incident. Shockingly, the police turned to them and started assaulting them. Not surprising in a state where the paramilitary forces and the security apparatus at large has left no stone unturned to muzzle the press!

During the protest India Today photojournalist Javed Dar was injured. Another group of journalists alleged they were manhandled by the police and CRPF men in Kulgam town. The journalists including Dar, his colleague Naseer Ganai and two other reporters working with Srinagar based Rising Kashmir newspaper, were moving towards an alley in Kulgam where stone-pelting had taken place, when the police chased them and beat them.

A group of youth were being chased by police in the town. I got down from the vehicle and tried to take some pictures. The policemen however turned towards us and started assaulting us black and blue without any reason, Dar, who sustained injuries in his hand, said.

The vehicle of the Rising Kashmir’s photo-chief Farooq Javed was partially damaged by police personnel.

“I dont get scared now. I have overcome fears. I know when such situations arise, police and paramilitary forces try to intimidate you first and interrupt your work, Farooq Javeed, my colleague and senior photojournalist, told me.

We have chosen to be a journalist in Kashmir and we know its hazards too, he said.

Another colleague of mine, Manzoor-Ul-Hassan, who has five years’ experience of on-field reporting, says: Brother, we are grown-ups now. They intimidated us; assaulted us; but nobility and non-confrontation saved us from their further wrath.

Several other journalists accused Jammu and Kashmir police of harassment and hindering their reportage during a protest in uptown Srinagar.

Another group of journalists, mostly working with International press alleged that police hurled abuses at them.

We recently went to Hyderpora in uptown area of Srinagar. There were protests. The police stopped us and then started chasing us rather than the protestors, says Srinagar based photojournalist with AFP, Tauseef Mustafa. Whenever we are out to cover the protests, police dub us as trouble mongers; this is sad on their part.

The senior officials called up some of the editors and journalists, condemning the assault on the press, promising that the matter will be investigated thoroughly.

Journalists and their critics continue to think through the implications of the long pending Kashmir conflict; its impact on the culture, practices and ethics of the press and the daily challenges of the conflict situation here. Its is always very difficult to work in these circumstances for any journalist.

In Kashmi we have been facing lot of hardships as each political party, Indian forces and militants, try to force journalists to be on their side, speak their language and sing to their tunes. After the armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir valley in 1990, there had been occasions, when all parties would swarm the newspaper offices to have their versions - good or bad, published prominently in local newspapers or get them aired on radio or television.

Each party would try to put pressure on media men to toe its line. According to some critics and media watchers, this kind of situation has impacted the general reportage on Kashmir conflict. However, some believe that media in Kashmir have depicted a fair picture of their conflict, free of biases.

Media in Kashmir has been facing a testing time since 1990. But fortunately journalists here have always tried to give a fair picture of its conflict, and I must tell you it has always been challenging to withstand pressure from interest groups, former BBC correspondent and senior journalist of the Valley, Altaf Hussain told me.

Another senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Srinagar based Kashmir Observer, Sajjad Haider, says that covering Kashmir is a challenge for any normal journalist. He needs to be different, fully trained and groomed for it. He substantiates his argument by giving examples of local journalists disrespected and beaten, intimidated  and prevented from covering unrests, street protests across Kashmir Valley, he says.

He added that it was very hard to describe what kind of an experience it is for journalists covering the death of a fellow journalist in a curfew.

As a journalist, I would say journalism in the last seven years of my career has seen a lot of changes. I remember, nearly seven years back, when I was studying journalism at Media Education and Research Centre, University of Kashmir; we had a workshop with BBC World Service Trust. The workshop was aimed to train us - the aspiring reporters, for Conflict Sensitive Journalism. The veteran BBC correspondent, Stephen Hall, who had served for 38 years in BBC news, taught us the basics of journalism in conflict region. He told us about the golden rule, No Story Is Worth Your Life. This according to him was the first lesson for a journalist working in a conflict and war torn area. However, little did he know, once we will be in the field in Kashmir the arena of an armed confrontation between militants and state forces; will continue to pose a threat to our lives. 

Some media men here believe that reporting in Kashmir and covering ones own conflict is some time equivalent to committing suicide.

Newspapers and news media might have expanded, but freedom lags here. There are reports that sometime back newspaper offices in Kashmir received a note warning journalists to be more supportive of the Kashmir independence movement. However, no militant group took responsibility, but in mid-March in 2013, suspected militant groups issued a joint message that urged journalists to highlight the pain and suffering of Kashmiris because of oppressive state policies."

On perilous assignment

Facing intimidation from multiple sides is all part of being a journalist in Kashmir. Just last year, Indian paramilitary CRPF assaulted journalists on assignment in downtown area of Srinagar. Despite these woes, the number of media outlets in Kashmir continues to grow. Over 900 publications are registered today in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, up from 30 in 1989, according to the website of the Registrar of Newspapers for India. For the first time, a national English-language daily published from Chandigarh, The Tribune, has opened local editions, first in Jammu and more significantly last week, in Srinagar itself. Local and national news channels have proliferated, as have websites and bloggers-reflecting diversity in the news media and hinting at its potential robustness.

But expanding news media does not necessarily mean that the press is free. The scrutiny the media face from state and militant groups is in direct proportion to the level of unrest in the region. In June, locals commemorated the summer of 2010, when the state responded to increasingly violent demonstrations by imposing a curfew. Back then, newspaper distribution was halted for a total of 30 days, cable services were disrupted, and journalists were confined to their homes, despite having valid curfew passes.

The editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir newspaper, Shujaat Buhkari, says some "invisible pressures" makes the newsroom a more sensitive place for reporters here.

"So-called national security far outweighs the public's right to know," Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times was quoted by Committee to Protect Journalists as saying.  "Even if any information is given, it will often be slanted. For small-time reporters located in rural areas or in the border regions, it becomes especially difficult to resist such pressure. Then the army becomes both the guardian and the guide."  

An internationally known watchdog, Freedom House, recently claimed that World press freedom has hit its lowest level in a decade after a regression in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine, and the US’ efforts to curb national security reporting.

A report by Freedom House, which has been conducting annual surveys since 1980, found that the share of the worlds population with media rated free was 14 per cent in 2013, or only one in seven people. Meanwhile, 44 per cent of the world population lived in areas where the media was not free and 42 per cent in places where press was partly free, the Freedom of the Press 2014 report said.

The general trends across Kashmir are definitely negative as press freedom remains constantly under attack because of the many reasons described above.

Nazir Ganaie is a mid-career journalist based in Srinagar, Kashmir.  He is currently pursuing his MPhil on ‘Analysis of Challenges and Opportunities of Journalism in Kashmir’ from University of Kashmir. Feedback at

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