Nazir Masoodi, NDTV’s Jammu and Kashmir Bureau Chief is Kashmir’s longstanding journalist. Over the last year, he won two prestigious awards – the International Press Institute India award for the excellence in journalism and Best TV Reporter of the Year. In an interview to Khalid Bashir Gura, Masoodi laments the “depressing state of media” in Kashmir and across India.
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Two awards in a single year, that too in difficult times. How satisfying it is?
NAZIR MASOODI (NM): These were two different stories and two different situations. One was about The International Press Institute India award for excellence in journalism for the “expose of the conspiracy to scuttle” the Kathua rape and murder case probe. Initially, it was looked upon as a small incident. But I visited there and found that it is not what it was being projected. The little girl’s body was not allowed to bury in a land owned by her father. I stayed with the story in Jammu for two months and probed further and while checking facts found that it is not the way the police was making it out to be. I was able to talk about people who have always been suppressed and subjugated. I would have done the same if it was about someone else. I believed that this story deserved more attention, especially after I saw some political and social groups and lawyers all rallying behind the accused. The good thing was I exposed most of the things which later turned to be correct as proven by a forensic branch of investigation.
For example, I went to the place where people were holding rallies in Kathua. I interviewed the main accused and told him at his face that he was the main accused because I was convinced based on the conversations with locals. Later on, when the charge sheet was filed the entire world woke up to the story. As good work deserves recognition, the facts also deserve recognition. I was happy to get the award.
KL: What about the best Television reporter in English for the coverage on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and its aftermath?
NM: I am not happy about the award. It was a situation, a development which redefined the rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir after the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) when they became the subjects of the rulers who owned them. After that, this was the biggest development for me. Reporting this incident was not easy especially when you have the entire army of the media, television channels parachuted to Kashmir peddling a certain narrative, and amidst this, you try to report from ground zero with people’s version. It is a badge of honour for any reporter if the government is unhappy, irritated and revengeful about you. And then the recognition you get for your work should make one happy.
KL: Reporting Kashmir from Kashmir is a tough job. How did you manage to do it particularly after August 5, 2019?
NM: One needs to have commitment and sincerity for something. Commitment to be truthful, honest, and in my every broadcast I was saying and showing what I was seeing on the ground. I had nothing to hide and manufacture. I was just reporting plain truth even if bitter. Even though the government was unhappy I continued reporting what I believed was right. In times of deceit, speaking truth becomes a brave act.
KL: How did you manage to carry on reporting during communication blackout?
NM: Even though I had a satellite van from which I used to broadcast but the real challenge was attribution. What was a reporter supposed to do when there was no one to attribute a story to? That was a challenge. There was online, on-ground curfew. Leaders were jailed and common people were confined to homes. One was not able to make a phone call or meet anybody and yet telling a story to the world that this is the situation. It certainly was not easy. I turned those barricades into the stories, people who were stopping me and intimidations on the ground into the story.
KL: Share the story of your experience on the occasion of Eid when the valley was under lockdown following the withdrawal of Article 370?
NM: Eid is a day of celebration and it was a time when I was not able to talk to my mother. It was not my story but everyone’s who were not able to communicate with their loved ones within Jammu and Kashmir and outside as the communication was snapped. So everybody related to that. So it was emotional as well as factual. And it was all spontaneous. And I greeted my mother through a story on TV as I could not call them on the occasion of Eid. The good thing about that broadcast is that the journalism school in Guwhati has made it a part of their curriculum on how to report when confronted with such a situation.
KL: The institution of media in India is currently passing through a tough time. On one side of the fence, there is freedom of expression and on another side there is fear. How does one deal with this situation?
NM: Media at large in India has ceased to be free media now. LK Advani used to say that during the emergency in the 1970s, Indira Gandhi asked media to bend, they crawled but today they have become tools of propaganda for the ruling regime. Media is in a depressing state. Journalists are not asking questions or reporting but propagating ideologies. Is this journalism?
KL: As a journalist, how do you see the present times and future prospects of independent, free and fair journalism?
NM: It is bad but I am hopeful. The fact is the present depressing state of ‘journalism’ will come to an end. Good journalism will eventually retrieve its space. Why did I get an award? It is not for me. It is for not peddling official narratives and telling lies, but for the facts, I reported from the ground. Falsehood, propaganda has to go one day. Good journalism will triumph. Media by its nature has to be free, independent and critical to the power at every level.
KL: A general impression is that the media in Kashmir is under pressure?
NM: Local media is under pressure but we need to negotiate those pressures tactfully and report. If we are not able to (then) we are not journalists. We have to find ways to deal with pressures and intimidations. It is not that entire local media is gone, some are doing their job well. And if they do not do this, people will shift to social media. So they are harming themselves if they are not doing the job.
KL: Off late, journalists have been harassed by the security agencies for their stories. What could be the impact?
NM: I doubt it will have any impact. I know some of the journalists who are facing intimidations, hauled by the police for questioning and still they are reporting bravely. I have not seen any change in their reportage. I think those who have seriousness, honesty and commitment to do good reporting will continue. For example, even during militancy I have reported a large number of stories that went against them and their ideology, knowing fully it may harm me but as a reporter, I should do that. If I can’t, I should sit at home or do something different. Lately, those who were called for questioning and cases were filed against them, they are doing better work. That is strengthening their resolve to work. Intimidation is not going to work when journalists are committed to doing journalism.
KL: What are the costs of being a journalist in Kashmir?
NM: Depends on how you look at the glass: half-full or half empty.
KL: Nazir Masoodi is a name associated with a big media house of India. But how a small-time reporter, just entering the field would be able to manage pulls and pressures?
NM: We all have struggled. During the peak of militancy, I and my colleague Muzamil Jaleel used to walk miles at night at a time when only dogs were barking at us. So it was a difficult time. Everybody has to struggle and be happy with the struggle.
KL: Tell us how difficult it is to report Kashmir for Delhi based media organisations. Do you have any regret?
NM: I have not faced any problem. They publish every story I send. It is about how one conducts oneself.
KL: How do you see media policy being implemented in Kashmir and how it could impact free journalism?
NM: It is the responsibility of any government or administration to ensure media works in the free and fair atmosphere so that journalist is able to perform duty without any fear or intimidation but when administration and government become the tool of intimidation that is very bad. If there is no criticism of the government then there is something seriously wrong with government. Citicism is always half recognition of the existence of an institution and if you are intolerant to criticism, you are doing more harm to yourself. Governments and rulers should fear when they are not being criticized. The fact is that it is not easy for journalists to work in an atmosphere where intimidation becomes order. They should allow the media to work freely.