Harassment, censorship, precarious finances and glut of journalism graduates among other problems
Srinagar: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has said in a report that media in Kashmir is in “peril”, based on interviews conducted and observations made by an IFJ team that visited Kashmir last month.
In the report titled, ‘Kashmir’s media in peril: a situation report’, the federation has highlighted the government clampdown on media houses, censorship of content, control through economic sources, access discrimination, less wages to journalists, and mushrooming of non-professional journalists in Kashmir.
In observations that hardly find place in Indian or international reports, the federation has said that there is “lack of unity” among journalists, and no journalist organisation to negotiate working conditions and the “precarious” financial state of the media industry here.
“In such a scenario, there are no appointment letters, no medical benefits, insurance or pensions or provident fund. Written contracts are not drawn up and jobs and work assignments go according to oral agreements which are not binding. Photojournalists buy their own equipment, having to bear the costs of repairs and upgrades themselves. Phone bills are also borne by reporters,” the report states.
It says that “regular visits by army personnel and intelligence officers” to the homes of journalists and “harassment of their families has become routine enough to be unremarkable –the annoyance and surveillance being borne as a fallout of working and living in a conflict zone.”
Citing example of photojournalist Kamran Yousuf who was detained by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the report states that lack of support from employers “seems to increase vulnerability” of journalists in Kashmir.
“The 20-year-old from Pulwama had been contributing to Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma and other publications, but has been disowned by them. A news item about an earlier assault where he was identified as ‘GK lensman’ was taken down from the Greater Kashmir website after his arrest by the NIA,” the report says.
Stressing on the need for professionalism, the report says that while many journalists enter the profession “due to passion, the desire to inform, and to tell the story of the conflict, many admit that there is a dearth of professional training.”
Precarious working conditions: low wages, no job security, benefits, medical, life or risk insurance
Physical safety: No protective gear, insurance or safety training
Government control through regulating advertisement revenue: pressure to toe the official line or face financial insecurity
Lack of unity among journalists: several associations but no common platform
More vulnerable: women journalists, reporters living and working in remote areas; photojournalists at the frontline; Urdu media disadvantaged
Access to information: information controlled by government and security forces; out-of-bounds areas, telephone and internet shutdowns; no system in place to get official version of incidents from police or security agencies
State control: regulation by shutting down newspapers (Kashmir Reader)
Recent cases: Shafat Siddiqui – photojournalist drowned in 2014 floods; Mir Javed and Zuhaib Maqbool blinded by pellets in 2016; Kashmir Reader arbitrarily banned for three months in October 2016; Kamran Yousuf, detained without charge by National Investigation Agency, September 2017.
“The quality of journalism training is questionable, and often bookish and far removed from reality, as the faculty in most journalism schools are not working journalists. There is also a lack of formalised mechanisms of mentoring and skill training whereby senior journalists transmit valuable skills they have learned through vast experience,” the report mentions.
Referring to a recent case where a ‘suspected militant’ was killed in Uri (a border area in Kupwara), who later villagers identified as a civilian, the IFJ report says that “it was impossible to verify because the journalists were denied access and officials refused to comment”.
It also mentions that the official version to news stories is often too late in coming, making it “impossible to include quotes” of relevant government and military sources within the schedule demanded by a daily news cycle. “This routine stone-walling means that the official version is missing from news stories,” the report says.
On the government’s move of blocking advertisements to certain newspapers, the report says that “some publications receive advertisements disproportionate to their circulation (some print a token hundred copies for the record, while raking in large advertisement revenue)”. It pointed that the state’s control on media and cited three-month ban on Kashmir Reader as an example.
“The content of these publications is obviously impacted by the dependent relationship between the newspaper industry and the establishment, especially for economic survival. Pro-government publications are favoured with government houses, land, and other ‘privileges’ for propagating the official line. Those who do not play the game pay a price,” it said.
There is also a mention of the saturation of the job market, which the report establishes by referring to the number of students graduating from the newly formed journalism schools in Baramulla and Anantnag.
“Journalism schools in Baramulla and Anantnag producing 120 graduates every year contribute to a glut in fresh entrants working for very low wages just to be able to gain experience and by-lines. This, many felt, results in devaluing professional journalism,” the report says.