There is a strong and vigorous debate going on in social media (Facebook) about whether or not the journalism can go along with activism. Journalists, going by the nature and form of the debate, appear to be divided on this issue. Some believe journalism aka activism mars the very essence of the profession and renders the output, so to speak, they produce single eyed and biased. However, the other side justifies its argument by holding the two- journalism and activism-inseparable.
The debate sprang out after a broadcast journalist vigorously planted trees across the valley and distributed saplings among the masses with a self-made, meticulous social media campaign. The journalists who oppose the idea of activism in the profession believe that the profession entails a responsibility of being un-biased and objective. They house their argument in a rudimentary form of journalism. For them, journalism is in itself an activism if done in a professionally unflawed way with all elements intact.
The argument, over the contentious and charged issue, between the two journalists has been going on and has captured many eye balls and thereby attention but, at the same time, it seem to have entered a stage where both the parties have started digging graves to bring dead corpses to the fore to make the DNA of the dead public.
Issues that emerged were that of a journalist who made a crime report public exonerating the security forces of the alleged rape and murder of two women from Shopian. What also forms the gravamen of the online discussion are the double standards people in the fraternity display while judging people close to the power corridors. Amid the hullabaloo, one party taking side with the activists judges the other and questions the opponent for being judgmental in the same breath and vice versa. The same saga repeats itself, on an on: Allegations are met with counter allegations and so on. The online place their basis with proper attributions making it a wonderful reportage on journalism-activism. All this could constitute a learning tool of how elements- attributions-are assembled to make a proper hierarchy in reportage.
The preceding discussion constitutes an analysis and assessment of the virtual discussion in contention. In the interests of specificity and accuracy, the posts of the contenders, Mufti Islah, Bureau Chief CNN IBN and Tariq Bhat, Bureau Chief, The Week, are reproduced here:
The Post of Mufti Islah, Bureau Chief, CNN-IBN, reads:
Journalists should profess the art of journalism. True. But it does not blight a profession if he or she is honest and passionate activist too?
His or her word carries more weight. He is not taken lightly by those who shirk responsibility.
A journalist should be an activist and not a deadwood. He should do more than fret, fume or fart, more than providing lip service and be critical and assume he is know all and fountain of knowledge.
Let us refrain from sitting on seat of judgment and shooting edicts. Let us not assume people who are passionate about environment or others things are thugs or wannabe political activists. Only God can predict. Humans can’t be God, nor soothsayers.
What is this suggestion that you commit felony if you plant trees on a barren hills, clean filth from water bodies or launch a polythene-free drive. Is it a sin? Does a journalist-activist need to atone?
Let us not adjudicate and mind our own businesses.
It is neither written in the bible nor not cast in stone that your job is to hold mike or pen and criticize or highlight issues and leave it at that. Today, journalism entails you are activist and an aggressive one, at times.
We, as journalists, cannot close our eyes and sleep.
And assume government will take care of all the muck and ill planning. You point out a fault and go comatose, buy provision, eat, sleep and repeat the same next day.
In between you laze, converse over cups of tea, gossip, pick faults at your colleagues, fart and write posts on FB. Your job is done.
Looking at the powers that be and how negligent they can be, it is a must that a journalist does more than parade facts on paper or TV. He or she should be nagging and go to the town, shout too, if he finds the system deficient.
And, not point an accusatory finger at individual journalist or journalists, for (God knows where they get it), currying benefits from a plantation drive or wading through dirty streams. His aim can be to make Kashmir green and clean. Who are we to attribute motives?
Yes, Mr journalist activist, here are the charges against you so what they have not been proven and are in the realm of figment of imagination. This is a kite flying season literally in Kashmir.
You are minting money. The car in which you ferry thousands of saplings, wire guaze, fence, buckets, spades, shovels, pipes and what not, is bought from the money you got through government and NGOs. You needlessly pull six to eight people in winters in your car and go for picnic. The fuel you burn comes from government purse
The jackets and sweaters you wore through the big chill and were torn in thickets and bush berries in Rathsun and other forests was actually a cut of this ill-gotten money. How greedy and shameful you are?
The conversations you and your team including the ever ‘greedier’ Shafi and Pradeep Dardi had with farmers and experts are aimed to get recognition, string networks and fame. It is deliberate. You did it in the game of the name. When are you contesting polls?
The experiments you did to ensure saplings were alive in the dormant wintry earth were for facebook popularity.
Critics say you are doing this to boost your image which you might require to take a plunge into the murky political waters.
And more accusations which we will discuss next time when you are crucified.
In nutshell, critiques who are not even A few, accuse you of indulging in cheap populism and taking first assured steps to get into politics. Why are you doing this?
Haha. You are an activist and loose the right to practise journalism. But I know you are a good at both. Infact very good. Why would the bosses keep you plus your antics and attitude. Are they out of their mind?
But, my friend you shouldn’t care. I have seen you doing this for Kashmir. You are a true son of soil. You did and are doing untiringly what collectively half of men and women could not amid cannot do. They could have, given the resources but they didn’t irrespective of the regimes who ruled us. You are a dynamo to this fresh change. I have seen how you toil and are never short of energy and continue to do what you deem right. Do what you have set out to do. Please. I am a fan.
Frankily speaking I hated your long FB commentary at first but when I saw the impact and responses of your social media posts, I decided to shut up. You inspire hundreds to ACTION and have set a fear among the nay sayers. You pulled up the deadwood and forced them to work. I have seen it all and am a witness to that all.
Don’t care about the shrill surround sound. It is all gas.
Tariq Bhat, Bureau Chief, The Week magazine writes on the his Facebook wall:
The logic that journalists’ activism stems from the power and influence they command, raises the question: Why no such activism against rights abuse, the most burning issue for long in Kashmir, whether by the uniformed men or the militants? Our society is also riddled with corruption, favouritism, fraud, and nepotism. Why no activism against these ills? Your power and influence could also help end the sufferings of the families of the missing persons’ in Kashmir, deliver justice to the women wronged in Kunanposhpora, innocents massacred in Gowkadal, Wandhama, Chattisinghpora, Pathribal, Nadimarg, Sopore, Bijbehara and, at many other places across the state. Will you take up these issues? No, you won’t. Why? Because, that would upset the applecart. That, in turn, would upset the power equation that you activists so cherish. A journalist’s activism is his/her work. A case in point is a recent story by a promising young reporter, Shafaq Shah of GreaterKashmir, about the Abaya ban in a nursing college in Srinagar. Shafaq reported the issue and we all know the impact it had. Her story was too powerful to be ignored. The report by TOI about a job provided to a certain Geelani, fraudulently, had a similar effect. Did the reporter resort to any kind of activism or live streamed his exclusive on Facebook? The report that a cop tried to destroy the evidence about the rape and murder of an 8- year-old girl in Kathua by New Delhi based channel is another case of reporting activism. The impact the story had is known to us all. That is a reporter’s activism, it ends at that. We all know the impact Muzamil Jaleel’s story on sex abuse scam had in Kashmir in 2006. Did Muzamil gather his friends to surge the street against that ‘vice’? His story did the trick. The report, a few years back about the misdeeds of the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s brother in Jammu was another telling example of good reporting. I guess the story had the desired effect. That was what we were trained for. That is what we worked a major sweat for. I am reminded of a story by myself and MuzaffarRaina about an appointment scam of food inspectors in Srinagar Municipality by then administrator. His son was also in the list. The two of us wrote five consecutive Page One stories about the scam. Within a week’s time, the list was quashed. The administrator was compelled to disown his own son. Check with Muzaffar. I believe in that kind of activism. We were never part of any power equation and will never be. Thankfully, honest reporting is not passe. A bunch of new kids on the block are doing an excellent job. The baton of honest reporting has passed on to them.
Nobody is sitting on judgment here. Who sat on the judgment in 2009? Who resorted to slander and abuse then and exchanged blows? Who wanted to crucify that reporter then? Who turned him into a pariah and jeopardized his security? But for Allah, his fate was sealed because of the activism of certain reporters who acted as the judge, jury and the executioner. What about the fake bravado and gutter cheap show of sympathy for a deceased reporter on a messaging forum recently? Was that ethical? Didn’t the playing to the gallery backfire miserably? Who took out a shameful procession of his economic status by chest thumping and abusing everything? Why did the tiger beat a hasty retreat with his tail between his legs when he was confronted? An honest opinion doesn’t constitute gas. That’s a result of hypocrisy, fake bravado, cheap publicity stunts, lobbyism, and manipulation, all rolled into one. And then thrown in conceit and deceit with the sinister web of intrigue, and the result is all too deadly. Is that your specialty? Or hugging people in person and slandering them behind their back? There are tons of examples. That is what constitutes farts. Rest assured, I am game with all your antics, despite your power and influence, Mr activist. Now go and change your diapers; they’re stinking. After that write another post, and then I will respond.
Healthy and vigorous debate is the sine qua non of a society. The debate, between Mufti Islah and Tariq Bhat, corresponds to this truism, especially because of the nature of the topic and theme they have chosen to discuss and dwell on. Both the posts and the discussion there of beautifully acknowledge that activism somehow is part of journalism, be it an activism of pastime or journalism-activism which Tariq is pointing out by alluding it to the impactful reportages produced by Muzamil, Shafaq, Muzafar, ToI. But the lexical units of the clauses particularly the interrogative ones could have been replaced with milder ones, to do away with disparaging remarks and insults.
—The author is Consulting Editor at Kashmir Reader. He can be reached at: [email protected]