The beginning was modest, but it has taken off with a promise and we hope it goes from good to better
By Sajjad Bazaz
Kashmir has been a green pasture for journalists all over the globe since long in general and since thirties in particular. The events which took place during the period, especially from July 13, 1931 when the people’s movement against feudal and autocratic Raj was launched, are keeping the journalist community in good humor, for its news value.
Even as Kashmir being a hot bed for journalists all over the world particularly Indian journalists, there was a lack of local taste to this noble profession of journalism for a long time. No doubt a few Kashmiris tried their hand in this profession, but in one way or the other couldn’t flourish to project realities in true sense. Lack of powerful local journalists paved way for the Indian journalists to project realties of Kashmir from time to time in a most unethical manner, as their stories were most of the time based on an irrational sense of patriotism and jingoistic emotions than on ground realities.
Z. G. Mohammad – a prolific writer from Kashmir, in his article Big names, small men says: “How so big the names – Kashmir has dwarfed them. There is hardly a big name in Indian journalism that has not looked at Kashmir through the tinted glasses- to be precise through the glasses of people in power at New Delhi.
There is hardly any, who has passed the litmus test of objectivity when it came to Kashmir. One could understand Kashmir politics or ‘ongoing movement’ being looking at by some journalists through the ‘hallucinated-eyes of patriotism’ but it becomes a travesty of justices when social crimes are also projected as politics.”
To deal with the situation, Kashmir lacked a breed of professional journalists for decades together. But at the same time a few people tried their hand in the profession but their efforts didn’t last long. However, the journalism in Kashmir got a new beginning when Kashmir University started a full-fledged Department under the name and style of Media Education Research Centre in 1985 to teach journalism.
I was fortunate enough to be one among the first batch of 13 students of this department. We started pursuing the course in an atmosphere where the scope of this profession was just not encouraging. No doubt, some prominent Urdu newspapers like Srinagar Times and Aftab were published from Kashmir Valley and English dailies like Kashmir Times and Excelsior were published from Jammu.
Soon after joining the department for pursuing Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism, we were taken to Delhi for a rigorous two months training and exposed to various media procedures and processes. We were made to interact with India’s top media professionals like Chanchal Sarkar, P C Chatterji, T. Kashinath, George Verghese and some other prominent journalists of repute.
In small groups we were deputed to various media agencies like newspapers, All India Radio and Delhi Doordarshan to acquaint ourselves with the media atmosphere of which we were going to be a part for the times to come. Those were delightful and unforgettable moments when our Head of the Department used to introduce us as students of journalism, these big personalities used to extend a warm welcome to us.
We were just a few months old in the department, when we observed a serious error in reporting of an event in one of the prominent local Urdu dailies published from Kashmir. Basically, the front page of the newspaper carried a four-column story about an incident in which a woman in Safakadal area had consumed some poisonous substance. As per the front-page report, the woman had died before shifting her to hospital.
Ironically, the same incident was reported in the same newspaper on the third page with facts quite contrary to what had been stated in the front-page report of the incident. The third-page report described the incident as:
“A suicide bid by a woman in Safakadal area was foiled. The woman had consumed some poisonous substance. She was timely removed to the hospital where the doctors washed her stomach and saved her life.” Wasn’t the reporting of the incident ridiculous?
As a student of Journalism, I along with one of my batch mates decided to call upon the editor of the newspaper. Because by all means he owed an explanation to this serious error. In view of the response we got from prominent personalities during our training in Delhi, we were expecting to get the same warm welcome from the local editor after introducing ourselves as students of Journalism.
We had in mind that after defining the error committed by on the newspaper while reporting a situation, the editor will at least applaud our capability. But nothing like that happened. Our grilling started right from the entrance gate of the prominent newspaper. We tried our best to make the staff of the newspaper to understand that we were students of journalism and had to talk some professional matter with the editor. But all in vain. As we were ready to leave the premises in a most disappointing mood, the editor of the newspaper appeared on the scene.
Seizing the opportunity, we requested the editor to spare a few moments for us. After some tough moments the editor finally took us to his room. I still remember that after our meeting with the editor was over, we lost our way out, as the location of the room was confusing at least for us being first time visitors. The editor didn’t offer us a seat. He hurriedly asked us the reason of coming to his office.
After listening to us, he called his reporter who had filed the story about the suicide incident, which had appeared on the front page and asked him the reason of error. The reporter in a casual manner replied that he did not know that his fellow reporter had also done the same story.
The editor tossed him away by saying that only one reporter at one beat should go. But he didn’t bother to seek actual report of the incident – whether the woman got killed in suicide attempt or was saved. Before we could try to explain him the seriousness of the error committed in reporting the incident, the editor asked us to go away. This was the status of newspapers and their functioning in Kashmir and that too involving a prominent newspaper.
Most of the time news and its reporting used to become causality, but readers had no choice, as they were entirely banking on these few newspapers for views and news both. Our exposure to difficulties in practicising the profession of journalism started when we passed out in March 1988. Fortunately, Greater Kashmir was launched in the same year as a 12-page weekly in the same year and I joined as one of the founder members. Indeed a Masters degree in Journalism was at my back. But that was not enough, as I had no clue how to start. Needed was a guide to show us the way and to lead us where we could make a mark of our own.
Again I was fortunate to work under a prominent journalist M L Kak, who was Special Correspondent of Tribune. He was generous enough to guide me at all levels of the profession. Before sending my write-ups for publication, I used to get them whetted by Mr. Kak. Even at times he used to hone my articles to give them a professional touch. This is not a fiction. But a fact. One day I had gone to his home in early morning hours to get my story whetted by him.
While he was going through the contents of my story, somebody knocked his door. Before opening the door, he just peeped through a small hole inside his house and immediately rushed back and directed me to take position in another room. I obeyed him and within no time he locked the room from outside. For about an hour, I remained in the room locked and was wondering why so? After an hour or so he unlocked the room and asked me to come out and be comfortable now. I enquired about the reason of locking me in another room. I was astonished to know when he said.
“One of my colleagues (journalist) had come for some work. Had he seen you here, I would have been in trouble.” When I asked him the reason he said, “My colleagues know that I am guiding you. They don’t like it. I have been told not to encourage you.” But Mr. Kak ignored warning of his fellow journalists and continued to guide me in my profession of mass communication and journalism. There are certain clues, which were provided to me by him, and I still bank on those clues while discharging my professional duties. After gaining an experience of over one year in the profession, I started trying my hand on political affairs. Some of my political stories were debated in various circles.
A senior journalist once called me and while hailing my efforts as a journalist, he advised me to write columns on Steffi Graf, Imran Khan and other such personalities. Actually the senior journalist was trying to distract me from learning other facets of journalism. Nineties saw a sea change in the field of journalism. Mushroom growth of newspapers, journals etc. was witnessed during that period. People remotely connected with journalism tried their hand at it. Most of them vanished with the passage of time and some succeeded to mark an impression on the journalism scene on one pretext or the other.
Frankly speaking, journalists in that period were categorized into two categories – literate and illiterate journalists. And the ethics of journalism became a casualty. But now the situation has changed. A revolutionary change in journalism in Kashmir has taken place.. Be it print media or electronic media.
A professional breed has already marked their presence on the scene and is doing wonders, whether they work for a local, national or international media agency. Credit for this change goes to the Media Education Research Department of the University of Kashmir. Whatever little infrastructure the department has in place, but the fact is that at least professionals in press/media are marking their presence. This has without any doubt enhanced the image and credibility of local media and men. Now State government too has a role to play.
Journalism Training Workshops should be conducted in which correspondents representing various national, regional and local newspapers and magazines are invited. Even freelancers including educated women, social workers, teachers, students and housewives should also be invited to attend such kind of workshop. There should also be arrangements for training workshops of local journalists in various aspects of journalism including law and ethics. This would help raise professional standards. These workshops can become a stage for open discussion through questions and answers covering a wide range of subjects relating to news writing and complaints about blackmailing and irresponsible news reporting.
(This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. Kashmir Patriot neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)