The media nexus in Kashmir Valley

28 Apr 2016 16:47:10

Abha Khanna

Every Friday evening, a scene is played out at Jamia Millia Masjid in Nowhata, downtown Srinagar. After the namaaz is over, the gates are closed. Just inside the gates, there are some 20-30 youths with their faces covered and anti-India or pro-Pakistan banners in their hands. Jammu Kashmir police and CRPF personnel are standing at one end, wearing combat gear that protects their head, face, torso and knees. At the other end, some 50-60 cameramen from electronic and print media are ready with their still and video cameras trained on the ‘protestors’ and security forces.

The action starts when the set is ready. ‘Protestors’ start raising anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans, and after some time begin throwing stones at the waiting security forces personnel. The personnel fend off the stone-pelters in the usual manner. The mediamen are busy capturing the ‘protests’ on cameras at a safe distance.

Most interestingly, this scene is clearly visible from outside the gate. As stones are pelted and police take action to contain the ‘protesting mob’ in the open ground within the mosque, life on the street right outside the gates is completely normal. Women are walking past comfortably on their routine chores, vehicles pass by and street vendors sell their wares.  

It’s obvious that the local population is so used to this action-reaction happening safely within the gated premises, that not even a child bats an eyelid.

Welcome to the media mafia of Kashmir Valley!

This is just a glimpse of the manner in which news is manufactured and presented from within the Kashmir valley. It’s an unwritten rule that in Kashmir, media persons can only be Kashmiris – that too a few chosen ones.

There’s another unwritten rule in practice in media houses across the world – perhaps you can call it the ‘standard operating procedure’. The headquarters of every established media house has bureaus and correspondents in major cities, including Srinagar. The editorial team operating at the headquarters, say in Delhi, considers reports filed by its own correspondent as most authentic. Correspondents/bureaus are always given preference over other writers and news agencies. This is actually a healthy practice, giving due credibility and accountability to the in-house staff. However, in the case of Kashmir, there’s nothing healthy about this.

Over the last few decades, Kashmir’s mediapersons have been strategically woven into a clever and tight-knit nexus. This ensures that only a certain type of news is released to the world – that which serves a particular ideological purpose. The other news is either played down or not reported at all. Recently, a coordinator working at the headquarters of an electronic news channel noticed that every time there’s a bandh call in the valley, only one particular shutter was shown in the feed sent in by their video-journalist. This shutter was always downed to prove the efficacy of the bandh call, with some protests happening in the foreground. When questioned about this, the journalist gave some lame excuse and made sure there were some other shots next time.

The students of NIT Srinagar had firsthand experience of this. For a long time they were bewildered as to why the happenings at the NIT campus were being presented in such a lopsided manner in the media. Had they not used social media to relay their plight to the outside world, no one would have come to know what was really happening at the campus.

The security forces, especially the Army, have been facing this for decades now. The good work undertaken by the armed forces across Jammu Kashmir state under the aegis of projects such as Operation Sadbhavna are almost never highlighted, neither in local nor mainstream media. The issues that local correspondents don’t write about, never get highlighted in mainstream media. Convenient, isn’t it? Especially for separatists and anti-India lobbies.

Mainstream media houses have almost given up trying to send in non-Kashmiri journalists for Srinagar posting. The reason: non-Kashmiri journos invariably get death threats and are denied access to the normal bureaucratic machinery which is crucial to reporting.

Why is it that locals as well as tourists can move around comfortably everywhere in the valley, but an outstation journalist is not allowed to do his work? It’s clear that separatists, journalists and some bureaucrats are very much a part of this nexus.

The latest addition to this modus operandi is the rumour mongering mechanism that’s being developed in tandem with social media. Nowadays, it’s the mainstream media that follows up whatever plays up in social media. Some media reports have recently highlighted the ‘fake news epidemic’ that threatens the social fabric of Kashmir.

It’s high time this nexus is shattered and the Kashmir valley is thrown open for healthy reporting by anybody from outside the state. Local players operating with subversive motive have to be taken to task.


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