International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recently released Kashmir Media In Peril: A Situation Report about the state and status of media in Kashmir. While it highlighted the continuous battle of the institution in reporting a conflict with least resources and visible tensions between various stakeholders, it highlighted various issues about the ‘other side’ of the operations. Tahir Bhat asked Bashir Manzar, General Secretary of Kashmir Editors Guild about the observations
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): IFJ’s latest report on Kashmir media says the situation of journalists is pathetic. Is it so?
BASHIR MANZAR (BM): I have very strong reservations about the usage of the word “pathetic” if it is there in the report (as I haven’t yet seen it). Journalists in Kashmir are facing a difficult situation like the other journalists covering other conflict zones across the world. Their situation is not “pathetic” but difficult and challenging and this challenge they have always taken head-on.
KL: The report says the journalists are underpaid, some getting as low as 100 US $ a month?
BM: Making such a sweeping statement is unfortunate. Agreed, the media organizations in Kashmir may not be in a position to pay the way such organizations at the national level are paying but 100 US $ a month statement is absurd. The people compiling such reports need to understand the economy of local newspapers in Kashmir Valley. Most of the newspapers solely depend on their daily sales and the government advertisements. They have very limited resource base to run their establishments but still the situation is not as bad as 100 US $ a month.
KL: The government has appreciated the rate of advertisements recently. Will it impact the wages of the working journalists?
BM: See, if the economies of newspapers improve, so would the situation of all those who work for these publications. That said, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The rate enhancement was announced in last budget session. We are having a new budget session just next month and the “enhanced” rates have yet not been implemented. At the same time, I must add, the new taxation system and the inflation have appreciated much more than the hike you are talking about. The print media across the world is already facing a challenge by the digital media, the web. Now readers get everything free and they do not require a print edition. We have to run both, the print and the web editions and pay for both. This is despite the fact that monetization of news in developing world will take a long time. So these issues are no less crucial for the publishers, anywhere across the region.
KL: The report also says the media in Kashmir lacks professionalism and training. How correct is this observation?
BM: Yet another absurd statement. I tell you with confidence that we have the most professional journalists here in Kashmir. Our talented, trained and professionals have made their mark not only in Kashmir but also all over the world – be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Kuwait or Libya. We have the best professionals and they have been working with world’s reputed media organizations.
We do have some problems with the curriculum that various universities have adopted. But we do not have any control over them and we do not wish to intervene as well. But our newsrooms are the best classes of journalism in this part of the world where they get the very basic training that most of their texts lack. Our newsrooms will continue to produce best journalists as we have already been doing for all these years.
KL: You have working in 1990’s like situation. How different is the situation right now? What are the net changes that the media scene has witnessed?
BM: Between 1990 and 1996 was too difficult. Though we still face lots of challenges but the killings of journalists, arrests, tortures and abductions have almost ended. However, there are some serious challenges emerging. Earlier, the actors, across the divide, were targeting individuals. Now they have started targeting institutions in different ways.
KL: KEG has been saying that it has stakes in freedom of speech. What is it doing for this?
BM: KEG, from the day of its inception, has taken the authorities head-on vis-à-vis freedom of speech. KEG tirelessly fought against the imposition of the ban against a local daily and didn’t rest till the publication of the newspaper was resumed. It will continue taking up the issues that are fundamental to the media operations in this part of the world.
KL: What is KEG doing to elevate the status of journalists in Kashmir?
BM: KEG has come into being with certain basic principles viz-a-viz to ensure that there is no compromise on freedom of press; to work for institutionalization of media in Kashmir; to do anything and everything possible to ensure that our media professionals are provided opportunities to exhibit their talent in a fair and free atmosphere and to stand united to isolate “bad guys” within the fraternity for which the establishment of an Ethics Committee is in the offering.
Before the KEG was born, journalists used to meet every time there was a crisis. Given the scale of activity on the ground, they also had no time to look towards the issues that the fraternity was confronted with. Now, KEG has started tackling issues beyond the freedom of speech. At the end of the day, we are also human beings, we also need to have life and health insurance, and we also need to tackle the welfare of the fraternity. All these issues will be tackled gradually. We are already on it.