Kashmir is one of the most challenging places for journalists to report from, according to senior journalist Yusuf Jameel at a maiden event at Kashmir Press Club about “reporting in Kashmir: Challenges and dealing with harassment” on Saturday.
Sharing titbits about his journalistic work in the Valley for more than three decades, he recalled that when a parcel bomb was planted at his BBC office in 1995, it resulted in the killing of his colleague Mushtaq Ali. In the aftermath, he was asked by J&K police to keep personal security guards for protection. “But I refused because I told the police officer who had come to me that I am a reporter, not an editor who has stayed in office,” he said.
According to him, journalists have to face the challenges and make it part of their daily life. “I was even told to migrate after the blast but I trusted God and whatever will be in your fate will reach to you. No security guards can’t save people,” he said and pointed to slain Kashmir journalist Shujaat Bukhari who was killed along with his two police guards in Srinagar’s press enclave.
Insisting that journalism demands sticking to the truth, he said when he didn’t change after facing multiple attacks on his life, the army gave up and realised he can’t be bought.
“When you are doing factual reporting, the truth will prevail,” the veteran journalist told a gathering of journalists at the club.
He advised young journalists to take precautions while reporting in on the ground.
“Don’t instantly rush to spot where an attack occurs,” he said, “Young reporters should take precautions before going there.
“But that doesn’t mean I am asking you not to visit spots. You need to plan from where you can reach the site,” he added.
Senior advocate at J&K High Court Syed Faisal Qadri, who also spoke of the issue, explained how legal challenges can be mounted to journalists to contest cases.
Pointing to challenging times and mounting attacks against journalists in India, he said the risk of life always exists in a conflict zone such as Kashmir.
He said reporting annoys people in power and as result journalists are being slapped with sedition cases. But he clarified writing or saying anything doesn’t amount to sedition.
“Saying zindabad and murdabad is not anti-national or seditious,” Qadri said.
He said laws for citizens and journalists are same and journalists should mount a legal challenge to fight for their rights.
Pointing out that no employer has right to throw out an employee without a substantial reason, he said rights of media workers are always protected even if there is written a contract between employee and an employer.
“Randomly an employer can’t throw out an employee. Even if there is a contract that too can be challenged in court,” Qadri said and added, “an employer can’t have hire and fire policy. The contract should have certain privileges attached to it”.
He suggested that journalists should have a team of lawyers, who can challenge the system for any violations.
Kashmir Press Club president, Shuja ul Haq said, “Throughout much of the world the journalists‘ rights to expression and access to information are changing. Incidents of physical harm, abuse, threat, and even financial injury are also increasing.” According to the senior journalist, Kashmir being a conflict zone is no stranger to this phenomenon. “The only difference is that we tend to normalise this at times. We forget to create a discourse. That is what is required”, Shuja said.
Journalists in the valley have been facing tough times in covering daily events. While many journalists have been killed during the decades’ old conflict several cases where journalists have been thrashed, beaten up, abused and harassed have been reported over the period of time.