SRINAGAR: Police on Saturday arrested a person accused of extorting money under the cover of being a journalist, nearly two weeks after a complaint was lodged against him, his organization ‘Kashmir Crown’, and its editor-in-chief Imran Ahmad Ganai, popularly known as Shahid Imran in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
The arrested accused has been identified as Ashaq Mir, managing editor of the four-year-old magazine titled Kashmir Crown run by Shahid Imran. Mir has been accused of blackmailing a woman who had been the source for his news item on drug abuse. According to the FIR, a copy of which is with Kashmir Reader, the accused duo of Mir and Imran breached her trust as her wish was not to reveal her name in any news item. Unprofessionally, they not only made her visible, causing so much stress that she thought of committing suicide, but also later sought money from her in exchange for accepting her request to remove the news item from their website and social media sites. When it did not happen, the woman filed a case against the duo.
A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, told Kashmir Reader that so far one arrest has been made while the investigation is underway. The probe will guide further course of action, whether any other arrest would be made or not, he added.
Kashmir Crown, which was registered as a weekly magazine with RNI in 2016, is not known for any print journalism but it has been given licence for a print magazine by the government.
Kashmir Reader spoke to the main distributors of newspapers but they did not even know if a weekly of this name was being published and printed or not. Nadeem Ahmad, the main newspaper supplier in north Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader that the magazine was never sold from his stands.
“Shahid told me in 2016 that he will supply copies of Kashmir Crown for its supply in north Kashmir, but he never did that. I never saw him after that,” he said.
A senior official from the Information Department said that Shahid brought copies of his published magazine on and off but not regularly. As per the rules, a published newspaper or periodical should reach the government’s wing of publicity and information department on a regular basis. It has not been the case, he added.
Ghulam Muhammad Hakeem, an information department official at Baramulla, said that he has been receiving issues of the magazine irregularly. He said that since June last month, he has not received any copy.
The website of the magazine does not have any digital copies of the published issues, though a dedicated section has been reserved for it.
On social media, however, Kashmir Crown has reached an audience more than any mainstream media house in the Valley. It has been running sob stories about families struck with calamities, especially of diseases and poverty. Emotionally charged videos are circulated on its social media pages to collect funds for the families under Kashmir Crown Trust. This has come under scanner after several social activists revealed that Imran has received some Rs 1.9 crore for the rehab of orphan girls but has not paid them duly.
An imam at a local mosque in Ganderbal raised a hue and cry about the trust. There is no public information about the use of funds by the trust.
Given how small the magazine is and its scanty sources of revenue, the use of funds by Kashmir Crown, and its two main operatives Shahid Imran and Ashfaq Mir, has now come under even more scrutiny.
Kashmir Crown has employees across Jammu and Kashmir. It has three offices, at various locations, which not even the regular successful media houses have, especially after the Covid pandemic resulted in layoffs and gloom and doom in newsrooms. People are saying that Shahid is constructing a nursing home and a commercial complex, too.
Kashmir Reader could not elicit a response from him. For two days he did not respond to repeated calls and messages from this newspaper. While at the same time he has been giving justification for his work in an interview to another Facebook page.
Two years since the government of India abrogated Article 370 on August 5, 2019, there has been a steady surge in ‘Facebook pages’ in Kashmir operating as “news outlets”. Holding mics with logos and press cards in their pockets, they are claiming to be journalists with utter disregard to professionalism and ethics. But questions have been raised on their source of income.
The press in Kashmir has been mostly dependent on advertisement revenue from the government, in the face of almost no corporate sector revenue. Shahid’s rise has raised questions as he is said to have a very humble beginning from a local news channel to the owner of Kashmir Crown. So is being said about Ashfaq Mir. Both have no sound financial background.
“We were surprised to see their growth. It is unparalleled,” said one of their former colleagues. “They had become so engrossed in it that they did not even speak to us.”