Kashmir Reader and the Journalism of Courage

Rouf Dar, Umar Lateef Misgar & Harun Lone

Modern age is defined by media. Every epoch has a certain peculiarity, a marked distinction. The present epoch is characterized by a dominating incision of media and it’s round the clock surveillance of our political and social community. As a matter of fact, no facet of human life is left untouched by the media. Trade and politics, domestic and international are all hugely influenced by media in variable proportions. With the introduction of social media, even the most intimate facets are now shaped and projected by it. Media possesses a percolating presence in the activities we do and the choices we exhibit. Prominent has been its searing effect on the public opinion and political policies.

In their biblical text on media, Chomsky and Herman brilliantly dissected the role of media in altering public opinion. This alteration is structured along a direction that the bosses, in big-business, media offices and government echelons, wish to, and find apt to support their designs however vicious they may appear to be. The US led war on Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq, both had significant public consent, articulated and channelized through clever use of media industry by the warring nations. Now, as alternative and investigative journalism steps in and media jumps onto the scene to defend its integrity and restore its lost ethics, threads are loosening and the banal attempts of neoliberal superpowers to maintain the status-quo are going south, albeit with a neo-fascist jolt.

 Media has become a lackey for powerful countries in the garb of which their stained crimes find cover. What nations find difficult to achieve using scorched-earth state-force, media does it for them rather easily, making concerted efforts by just pushing some buttons. The power of media has grown exponentially so much that it drives the state policies more often than not.

 Narendra Modi’s ascension to power was made possible via the elaborate PR campaign, disguised as news, BJP ran for months together. Backed by beefy corporate houses, his face was televised every minute. Televisions and radios were more of campaign rallies than portals for news. And that is what a professed democracy needs to sort out — the kind of corporate funding that privileged parties manage to get, which favorably shifts results. Failure to do that shall inevitable result in the dilution of all semblances of a democratic system, turning it into a disguised plutocracy. 

The predefined ethics of journalism taught in schools and media firms ask professionals to remain neutral and unbiased. But stories and reports are affected by social realities of the time. Nonetheless it is always up to the media agencies to adopt a position. It can either go with the state or with the people. It can go with the powerful or the oppressed. The choice is all theirs.

In such a context, newspapers, television, radio and the whole information system in general has got a choice to make, to side with whomever they want and to propound the interests of whichever class they wish to. The state-owned media and manpower can never be expected to speak in favor of masses. They in turn make every conscious effort to place a tight lid on the malfunctions and mishaps that government of the day espouses.

There is however the emergence of an alternate media, funded by NGOs or run through public donations, which has made some ethical journalism possible. Being financially independent of the privileged interests, it can go against the grain and counter the abusive statecraft, and deconstruct all those policies which are corrosive for people’s rights. For these reasons, it pricks the state to come hard on them and gag their voices, as has happened in multiple instances.

Indian media is the kind that knows no ethics and is compliant while promoting “national interests,” even if that requires trampling over people’s rights. It is guilty of framing the public opinion in a dangerous, chauvinistic path where a catastrophe awaits them at the end of this dark experiment. Prime time fish market-esque debates and rabble-rousing background scores induce fetishist tendencies in people who are blown by the hoarse cries of patriotism.

The Indo-Pak escalation over the Line of Control is not that serious, or was not that serious, as the media tapes projected it to be. It pushed on the state to take destructive decisions and infiltrate into the other country’s administrative zone, to which the latter retaliated. This has given rise to warlike conditions along the LoC as people in Indian-held side have been evacuated and face the consequences now. But to report the latter is hardly the job of media persons who are obsessed with the “submission” of their neighbor.

Continuing the brilliant use of media, India managed to transfer the spotlight on human rights abuses in Kashmir over the past few months to issues of self-propelled importance. The murder of 90 plus youth got overshadowed by the killing of 17 soldiers in still-uninvestigated circumstances. Indian state will have to award Bharat Ratna to its media for the brave work they have accomplished. After 90 days of continuous seige, there is no talk of addressing genuine aspirations of Kashmiris rather the focus has shifted onto the warzone along LoC.

During current uprising, the state, among its primary repressive measures, enforced a blanket ban on mobile calling and internet services, thus nullifying any sort off utilization of alternative media tools by the subjugated people. Local news found no medium of transmission. Social networking sites, where news spread like wildfire, had users behind technological bars. Consequently, no news of death and injury was being sent across and that paid the state in alienating the valley along with human rights violations.

Building upon this neocolonial form of control, the state raided offices of publishing houses and barred the publication of newspapers for many days. The outreach of newspapers had already taken a hit as the uprising brewed in all parts of the valley. In such a time, newspapers carried news and visual images of oppression being meted out to people which obviously irked the state. The ban was revoked after, though.

The stream of newspapers in Kashmir has different contours. While as many sugarcoat headlines and modify facts, there are some rare outlets that can claim to adopt the people’s position, represent them and portray their sufferings. Kashmir Reader, a small private-owned daily (not Network 18 type), belongs to one of these outlets that has limited readership but has attained a name for disposing ethical journalism — and ethical means becoming a voice of the oppressed. It provided a space to arguments and opinions primarily concerned with the most important issue of our lives i.e. The Core Kashmir Conflict.

Pertinently, Conveyor Magazine had a similar pro-subaltern policy with respect to its content. It did not escape the authoritarian eye and was banned during the last uprising in 2010 following which Kashmir Reader made an appearance and tried to fill in the void. After many years of critical reporting and daring narration, wrath finally fell on it too as the state functionaries ordered an arbitrary ban on its publication. From 3rd October 2016, Kashmir Reader stopped normal work. And yet another space was pushed into the history of state coercion.

Desmond Tutu famously remarked that, “If in the times of injustice you remain neutral, you are on the side of the oppressor”. What plagued times can one live in than the present. Which form of injustice can exist worse than the one in Kashmir. In such an environment of expansive militarization, Kashmir Reader has bore the brunt for having a clear-cut policy of speaking truth to power. In other words, the newspaper aligned itself with the people, the oppressed. That is what it has paid for, with its existence.

The newspaper will exemplify revolutionary and courageous journalism, nonetheless. And by receiving such a repressive response from the state, it has entered the list of a medium that went after an abusive establishment. And by providing a space to dissenting youth like us, who don’t boast of robust profiles which normally is a requirement for getting published in hi-fi media spaces, Kashmir Reader actually tried to strengthen the voice of oppressed and subalterns.

The more we turn toward a moral-evaluative condition that is heteronomic, the more we will manifest the various attitudes that are typical of false consciousness in contemporary societies: belief that the world one lives in is inherently just; the tendency of oppressed groups not to perceive their abused status; behavioral compliance with prevailing institutional norms; as well as the justification of their social roles.

There is also something found in almost everything that is called “false consciousness” With this we don’t open a space of invitation to get called “vulgar Marxists.” What makes this consciousness “false” here is that it is trapped into a monotonous display of cognition that deactivates critical cognitive and epistemic capacities and defuses the dominant ideas and values that legitimise prevailing power relations and interests.

Freedom of movement; freedom of association; freedom to travel; freedom of belief; freedom of information; freedom from unlawful search and seizure; freedom from unjust prosecution. These things we hold to be so basic, so fundamentally rooted in the essence of our societies, that we forget such precious things are a subterfuge.

Therefore, our attention has to be on the very structures that manufacture and constitute those mental processes that produce false conceptions of the world and allow hierarchically organized press to employ dominance over others. Freedom of the press in India is a historical cliché which actually was never free. And, freedom of the press in Kashmir is freedom to print the “administrator’s” prejudices that the state and capitalistic advertisers don’t frown upon. Banning only Kashmir Reader and not any other newspaper in the state of Jammu & Kashmir has given us a clearer picture of the ethically credible journalism Kashmir Reader paper has been able to do. This ban is, indeed, absurd. What makes it absurd is that it discloses a profound moral shift; a journalist in Kashmir not standing by another journalist.

Say the newspaper Greater Kashmir is dominant; the immediate question that comes to one’s mind is what makes it dominant? Is it because of its readership, its circulation, its advertising agencies or its reportage? If this newspaper reported conflict like Kashmir Reader did, why was not this newspaper or any other newspaper banned for that matter? People are out to discuss it.

It has also shown us the extent to which the State can go to choke its own essential value that it has created. The feeling of a hypocritical solidarity pays people a high psychological dividend which we believe is not what journalists from this newspaper look for. It has also put a huge question mark on the credibility of other newspapers in the state which have been running without any hindrances. On seeing that one doesn’t relieve oneself rather thinks what makes them functioning? It’s a question which people can unravel by themselves. Then there is the selective outrage from sections of Indian society over constraining freedom of press by the Indian state. By their fallacious logic, NDTV ban deserves a protest and Kashmir Reader deserves a criminal silence. That has ostensibly exposed the standards of Indian civil society and it went on to show that Kashmir is not, and can never be, India.

 “What do we have a responsibility to? Law or Justice?”  Edward Snowden, one of the greatest voices of conscience of our generation, once lamented. Every actor in a public space must ask itself this question. Kashmir Reader, by just doing its job, has answered this question in the latter.   

The authors are based in Kashmir valley and pursuing Masters degrees in the Kashmir University and the Islamic University of Science & Technology

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