Demonization of Kashmir journalism is nothing new. There’s a pattern in it, as K-history is replete with instances of economic offensive and death knell to choke and shake the 4th pillar of democracy in the region grappling with its own pending political problem.
For doing their job, scribes are taking a tightrope walk in Kashmir braving the unknown gun and unsettling summons. A heavy price of running news mill despite challenges has already been paid by the K-media.
At least 20 journalists have been assassinated—many shot in an execution-style in their offices—since 1990. The number of journalists incarcerated, beaten, summoned and threatened is extremely formidable, and such things only seem to have become a routine now.
Be it Mushtaq Ali’s parcel-bomb killing or the rattling assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, the fraternity only froze from head to toe whenever their tribe member was silenced. With the fear that such fatal strikes imbibed, the ‘messengers of news’ were compelled to rethink about their professional duty whose cost has surpassed so much so that it has become the ‘life or death’ matter.
Another blow in 2019 fall altered the mode of journalism altogether in Kashmir. The newspapers were rendered blank, while 8 million people locked in their homes waited for these dispatches to console their restiveness. The ‘silence was the loudest sound’ around.
As this silence was gradually filled with some resilience— with a few journalists going to and fro from states to deliver the news— a particular silence absorbed the mainstream media back home, as though forever.
This silence, if deciphered, meant that the headlines of precedence would find no space, while full-page cover ads appeared safe, and which later mutated as Orwellian thought-control campaign for entire newsprint. Editorials disappeared and columnists were replaced by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial. Ironically, the twin treatise seemed apt. The stance and editorial independence was indeed undergoing a ‘trial’ and ‘metamorphosing’ into something that would look as ugly as the Gregor Samsa himself.
Some journalists became labours undertaking daily odd jobs to meet their ends. Their editors tuned into the national and international news channels in dismay and discussed the possibility of republishing some of it. The relief came after a centralized media facilitation centre was set-up, however, only slightly as this immediately raised the concern for slow internet speeds, limited space and most importantly the privacy and censorship concerns— deeply at stake.
Some independent media organisations, not exceeding the number of five, shifted to the states outside with internet access to report, while few discontinued and quit altogether.
The independent journalists, whose numbers increased in the years, ensured that the information is disseminated as their newsroom handlers resided anywhere but Kashmir.
But, doing independent journalism also cost heavily despite their stance remained unflinching. The cost of the limited resources getting exhausted, and in some cases, summons and warrants under draconian laws. It also cost because a policy applicable to mainstream media is equally applicable to independent media. The silence that absorbed mainstream media would affect the independent journalism too, however differentially.
So much has changed. But in the post-truth era, the need to be conscious to filter which information one is consuming, actively or passively has intensified. However, it’s an open secret that media is under threat more than ever.
The debate over whether this threat looming on it is by choice or chance is lateral one. If you, as a reader and information consumer, would not make a conscious choice right now, and address this issue as a conscious citizen, then it would be only unfortunate to say that from hereafter, ‘news may not reach you soon’.
— Ubaid Majeed,
Editor-in-Chief, Mountain Ink
(This Editor’s Note appeared in the October 2020 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)
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