There may be many factors for the growth of media in the last two decades in Kashmir, but one organisation has provided bricks for building this institution, the media studies department of the University of Kashmir. Shahnawaz Khan reports.
We rear serpents here. The moment they learn to sting, they sting us – a teacher at the University of Kashmir’s Media Education Research Centre (MERC) once remarked.
The teacher was referring to the pass outs of the department who it is said start their careers by writing against the department, as soon as they pass out. Some adventurous ones have even started earlier – during the course itself.
For its close relationship with the media, MERC gets publicity easily, and many times it turns out to be bad. Its numerous critics accuse it of mediocrity, stunted growth.
But allegations and criticism has not stopped it from contributing to the growth of journalism as an institution in Kashmir.
Despite the flak it draws, the MERC may be the only department of the university to have had directly contributed, as much it did, to the growth of any institution in Kashmir.
Established in 1985 the MERC has produced hundreds of journalists so far. Its pass outs dominate the local media scene, be it the local English press, or the bureaus of national and international media.
Many have moved ahead to serve premier organisations in other places.
“We find now MERC pass-outs have become body and soul of local media. Some are working for national and international market,” says Nasir Mirza, Senior Assistant Professor MERC.
Mirza is often regarded as the face of the MERC, his name has become synonymous with the department and he has shared a long and turbulent relationship with the department.
Mirza was the first student to get admission in department when it started way back in 1985. After passing out he joined as a teacher, and has been at times asked to head the department.
When MERC started there were very few avenues in Kashmir, and the local English press was still to come on the scene. Many of its pass outs in the earlier years would have to change field for lack of avenues, but many stuck to the field.
But today MERC boasts of a large alumni, many of them in key positions in media and allied fields.
“MERC is star studded. We have names like Muzamil Jaleel, Parvaiz Bukhari, Izhar Wani, Kumar Mangalam Tickoo, Tajesh Prodhy , Zahir-u-Din, Aijaz ul Haque, Pradeep dutta, and so many,” Mirza says adding it is a long list.
Indian Express, Srinagar Bureau Chief, Muamil Jaleel who is also a pass out of the department, says the department has helped bring in professionalism in the local journalism scene, but complains that it hasn’t realised its potential.
“Right now what it does, it puts you (aspiring journalists) on track. But it has to come out of its time wrap, if has to really contribute. It has the potential to do much more,” says Jaleel.
In 1993 when Jaleel started his career, he says there were no trained journalists locally. Today the scene has changed.
MERC had a major role in the building of local English press it provided a large pool of trained journalists well versed with the language.
“Local English press owes its success only and only to MERC pass outs,” says Tariq Bhat, a multimedia professional and a MERC pass out.
Bhat however adds that electronic media from MERC has lagged behind.
“The biggest lacuna has been that on electronic media front, it has not given adequate hands on equipment training. Pass outs have learned in field or from other institutes,” says Bhat adding that MERC needs t produce trained specialists rather than generalists. However, he adds that it hasn’t stopped passouts from excelling in the field.
“We should also acknowledge that on electronic front there were not many avenues or organisations that MERC could back on to help its students. There was only Doordarshan which had a highly unprofessional atmosphere.”
Bhat has worked in the Gulf with global advertising agency JWT and operates a multimedia house which has plans of a television channel, FM radio and Ad agency manned by trained professionals.
In 25 years around 650 students have passed outs of the department, and