On Saturday, soon after police arrested Ashiq Mir, one of the associates of Shahid Imran who runs the social media page ‘Kashmir Crown’ — in connection with a case of extortion under Section 383 of IPC, social media journalism has become talk of the town. It has previously been targeted with charges of inauthenticity and unreliability. Journalists associated with print and television media have vociferously claimed that social media journalism has degraded the prestige of journalism. They say that now-a-days every Tom, Dick and Harry buys a mic and put on an identity card and masquerade as a journalist. In fact, the mushrooming growth of unlicensed news portals has led to evils like blackmailing, extortion, fake news, etc., thus earning a bad name for journalism.
Lately, a PIL was filed in the J&K High court against mushrooming growth of news portals on Facebook in Kashmir. The PIL stated that there has been a rapid increase in news portals based on social media platforms, which are responsible for circulation of fake news and other unethical and unprofessional acts.
The J&K High Court accepted the PIL and a division bench comprising Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Sanjay Dhar directed the government to file a response, specifically pointing out provisions of law under which such news portals, if at all, are required to be registered or licensed.
There is an urgent need of regulating news portals on social media platforms. License and registration should be made compulsory. The owner and reporters associated with such news portals should be required to have some basic qualifications and competence in field of journalism. Journalists involved in unprofessional and unethical practices like extortion, fake news, blackmailing, etc, should be dealt with stringently under law.
One more measure, like taken by YouTube, can be an option in this regard. Earlier, YouTube required channels to have 10,000 lifetime views to be eligible for monetisation. In 2018, YouTube tightened the rules and made it mandatory that a creator must meet some basic requirements in order to monetise videos. The requirements included that the creators must have tallied 4,000 hours of overall watch time on their channel within the past 12 months and have at least 1,000 subscribers. This requirement was put to improve the quality of content on YouTube. Similar measures need to be taken in order to regulate news portals. News portals should be given provisional license only for six months. Permanent license should be issued subject to fulfilment of essential criteria of required number of followers and watch time for specified time of six months.
But at the same time we must understand that change is inexorable. John F. Kennedy has said, “Change is the law of life. Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. Same is true of journalism. Journalism has undergone a drastic change in the past two decades. There were days when journalistic media included print, television and radio only, but with the advent of social media and the internet, social media journalism has made an important place for itself in the field of journalism. In a 2014 study conducted in the United States, 40% of participants claimed they rely on social media as a source of news. Social media journalism is now emerging as popular way of producing and disseminating news and information.
Everything has its pros and cons. Mobile-based journalism, too, has its pros and cons. It is fast and responsive. It can reach the audience faster. Today a news published on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube can reach lakhs of people within hours.
Earlier some major issues associated with education system, basic sanitation, healthcare, scarcity of water, dilapidated conditions of roads were not given fitting coverage by conventional media. With the advent of social media journalism, aforementioned issues are now highlighted and put forward to concerned authorities in apt manner. Thus, social media journalism has helped in making people’s grievances more vocal and the authorities more accountable.
We cannot paint all news portals with the same brush. Some among them are carrying out good work. We must have a balanced attitude about social media journalism. We can’t close our eyes to the advantages and the positive side of social media journalism. We have to understand that people prefer watching news on social media or on smartphones rather than TV in the present world. Those who have TV channels also upload videos on social media to reach a larger audience. Rather than complaining about the drawbacks of social media journalism, we should try to focus on eradication of shortcomings associated with it. We have to get rid of the ailment and not the one who is ailing.
—The writer is a law student at University of Kashmir. He tweets at @ummari jamal