by Khan Muzamil

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One of the key issues highlighted by this incident is how citizen journalists interacted with the families of the victims. Instead of approaching them with sensitivity and empathy, some citizen journalists appeared to exploit their emotions for the sake of viewership.

Copied from social media, this AI-generated image shows how citizen journalists are managing the show in Kashmir, in the wake of the Gandbal tragedy (April 2024) in which six individuals died as the boat capsized.

The rise of unprofessionalism has become more prevalent with the emergence of social media and new media. Recent events, such as the tragedy in Gandbal Srinagar where a boat capsized in the Jehlum River, highlight how citizen journalists and influencers sometimes cross the line.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, citizen journalists were quick to arrive at the scene, aiming to report on the event and capture the emotions of those affected. However, their approach, particularly in how they engaged with the families of the victims, raises concerns about the ethical standards and accountability in citizen journalism.

In formal journalism, journalists obtain permission before using or capturing video footage. However, citizen journalists are not bound by these restrictions. If formal journalists are held accountable for their work, there should be similar expectations for citizen journalists. It is essential that before engaging in reporting, individuals acquire skills through formal media education. Just as you can’t practice medicine or engineering without a degree, becoming a journalist should also require proper education and training.

In Kashmir, the surge of citizen journalism has outpaced formal media outlets, leaving only a few able to effectively reach the public. While a journalist’s role is to inform the public to distinguish right from wrong, the dominance of citizen journalism poses a challenge, hindering the public’s ability to make well-informed decisions.

Citizen journalism in the digital age has given individuals unprecedented power to report news, but it also presents challenges. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube allow anyone to share news instantly, bypassing traditional gatekeepers. However, this lack of oversight can lead to the rapid spread of misinformation and biased reporting.

Unlike professional journalists who undergo rigorous training and adhere to ethical standards, many citizen journalists lack formal education or training. Without these skills, they may prioritize sensationalism over accuracy to gain likes and followers.

One of the key issues highlighted by this incident is how citizen journalists interacted with the families of the victims. Instead of approaching them with sensitivity and empathy, some citizen journalists appeared to exploit their emotions for the sake of viewership. By asking intrusive questions about how the families felt, they crossed the line of ethical conduct, manipulating emotions for the sake of a story. This lack of empathy and consideration for the feelings of those affected by tragedy undermines the integrity of journalism and can inflict further harm on already vulnerable individuals.

Moreover, the absence of accountability compounds the problem. Unlike professional journalists who are bound by codes of ethics and editorial guidelines, citizen journalists often operate without oversight or regulation. This lack of accountability means that there are no repercussions for unethical behaviour, allowing individuals to prioritise their interests over journalistic integrity. As a result, sensationalism and emotional manipulation can become prevalent, eroding public trust in the formal media and hindering the dissemination of accurate information.

In response to these challenges, there is a clear need for guidelines and ethical standards to be established within the realm of citizen journalism. These guidelines should emphasise the importance of empathy, respect, and sensitivity in reporting on sensitive issues such as tragedies and disasters. Citizen journalists should be encouraged to prioritise the well-being of those affected by events, seeking consent before interviewing individuals and refraining from exploiting their emotions for the sake of a story.

The Gandbal Srinagar tragedy serves as a poignant reminder of the ethical challenges inherent in citizen journalism, particularly in the context of reporting on sensitive issues. While citizen journalism has the potential to democratize media and empower individuals to share information, it also requires adherence to ethical standards and accountability mechanisms.

My condolences go out to the grieving families. It’s unfortunate that in Kashmir, mourners struggle to find a space to mourn.

(The author is a trained journalist. The ideas are personal.)

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