SRINAGAR: There are very few stories that tell the story of a story teller called Journalist. But in between the back bone of a Journalist is his stringer, who brings stories for him to tell the world. There is hardly any story that narrates the inside story of this stringer who has a silent role in the making of star Journalists.
What made me to write this piece is a Facebook post of a Kashmir television Stringer, Aijaz Dar, who hails from the militancy prone Shopian district of South Kashmir. This may sound an ordinary Facebook post for others, but for journalists like me, it has an in-depth story to tell in itself.
Dar, a dedicated, prominent national television stringer, who is working from last 9 years recently posted on his Facebook timeline, “A Stringer has also his home, Children and some more liabilities…!”
This post is self explanatory to those who are media professionals. Let me explain for those who don’t know this unsung hero of Journalism known as Stringer. The stringer in English means a reporter, but in virtual media world he is treated merely as a runner for gathering news stuff. He is the man who is contributing to the success of many news TV stars and brands.
A stringer of a media organization works for its Bureau head, Reporter to bring stories from far flung areas. He brings the breaking news from the spot, exclusive inputs or footage of news worthy event, happening or an incident while remaining on toes round the clock. He can’t afford to give it (news) a miss.
Especially in Conflict ridden Kashmir, where blasts, militant attacks and gunfights are order of a day, a stringer is the hero of the news battle. A hardworking and dedicated stringer is the backbone of a successful reporter.
Most of the prominent journalists of Kashmir are known across country as Kashmir remains in news almost for one reason or other. The man behind the success of prominent Kashmir based journalists like Mufti Islah of CNN News18, Nazir Masoodi of NDTV, Ashraf Wani of Aaj Tak and many more is their stringer, sending feeds from far-flung areas of the mountainous Kashmir Valley.
Dar’s Facebook post got scores of likes, but few comments as hardly any eminent or veteran journalist had an answer to his feeling other than to acknowledge his plight silently. Dar was suggested to have patience and be positive by some of his colleagues.
But Dar’s reply was sadly, “If no one understands I will surely quite from there”, followed by a quick verse from a Ghazal with lyrics of Wali Mohammad Wali, “MUFLISĪ SAB BAHĀR KHOTĪ HAI… MARD KĀ E’TIBĀR KHOTĪ HAI”. This indicates the agony that has broken a dedicated professional.
The matter of the fact is that the work of a stringer is never known and his plight remains buried under his helplessness. A stringer is being paid a meager amount for his work, that too when their bosses felt like to pay them. Most of time he remain unpaid for months together on pretext of the cheques of the stringer has not been dispatched by the head offices (mostly in New Delhi).
Dar is currently working for two national news channels as a stringer from south Kashmir. He has not received a single penny since months for his work out of his meager hard earned money. “Stringer is kept in uncertain budget by the media houses. He is being paid at their (organizations) will. The reporters at bureau offices have no control on it”, Dar said.
The renowned journalists like Barkha Dutt, Arnab Gowsami, Rajdeep Sardesaie, and Deepak Churasia in their cozy big TV studios, debating Indo-Pak ceasefire violations or a Militant attack in valley never bothers if their stringer is living a life like hell. For them their reporter from Bureau office in Kashmir is the man behind the work to get TRP worthy stuff. However, it is the stringer who runs to the spot of militant attack in different corners of turbulent Kashmir to get the exclusive footage for his reporter or channel.
The stringer doesn’t have any insurance cover or a guaranteed salary. He puts his life in risk while covering the gun battle or a deadly stone pelting incidents. The exclusive tags run on a news footage by the television channels is due to the handwork of a stringer while credited to a reporter giving live or phono-in over the footage.
Worthy to mention a stringer is being paid a sum of rupees 100 to 1500 per footage depending on the organization. And this is the amount which at average is Rupees 3000 to 10,000 he earns a month. He has to manage his professional expenses like conveyance, camera taps, and camera maintenance, internet charges from this very amount besides his personnel and family expenses. He has no luxurious life, like news stars he contributes in the news world.
Having no job guarantee too, this dedicated stringer often runs hungry to save some bucks. What if the television industry starts losing stringers due to their inattention towards them? Surely, the TRP battles would go down and famous journalist would have no exclusive or breaking stories to tell.
Pertinently there are more than 120 stringers working for different national television media houses across Kashmir valley. In addition to that there are a dozen other stingers working for reporters of international media house. The stringers working for national, international or state based newspapers are three times more than broadcast ventures. These stringer too don’t have a different faith, may be few exception. However, in the entire state of news worthy Jammu and Kashmir, the number is double.
This step motherly treatment has forced many to switch to corruption or to become mouth piece of politicians and different agencies in valley. This trend has given them an appalling name of brokers in valley for no choice of theirs. After all, they have family to feed too.
What if they die while doing their insecure, uncovered and underpaid job? Who will shoulder their families and children or old aged parents?
We have an instance of senior photojournalist, Shafat Siddiqui, who died in the massive 2014 floods of Kashmir on 12 September while doing his professional duty. He was washed away by the flood water while covering the flood situation near Civil Secretariat in Srinagar. Siddiqui was working as Stringer photographer for Pacific Press, Sipa USA and Indian newspaper Dainik Jagran.
Survived by aged parents, wife, two years old son and two sisters, Siddiqui was disowned by the organizations he worked for to avoid paying any ex-gratia relief to his family. It was only after the hectic efforts of Kashmir Press Photographers Association (KPPA) that his family was paid ex-gratia relief by the The Dainik Jagran.
Pertinently Siddiqui family received support of media fraternity for getting the monetary relief from the organization because he was working in the summer capital, a hub of media. Would he have been a stringer from district headquarter, the things would have not been turned helpful.
Interestingly amid all odds what made him keep going is the passion and love for the profession. Dar’s Facebook status is a call for introspection for those journalists who rose to fame due to the efforts of their stringer. His Facebook status is a call for introspection for Number-1, Number-2 TRP claiming news channels. His Facebook status is a call for introspection to those who call them brokers.
Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He has previously worked for Day & Night News and Kashmir Times. He is former fellow of Thomson Reuters Foundation London and RNTC Holland. He tweets @ irfanquraishi85.