In Kashmir, media activism appears to be more or less an academic exercise. The impact of the media if measured especially by Government response(s) and public outcry(s) appears to be less than it should be. The lessons and implications of the reaction-whether by the public or the authorities- appear to be that media- print, visual- are, by and large, irrelevant in Kashmir.
The reasons are both historical and contemporary. Historically, the reasons pertain to literacy and literacy rates in Kashmir which were quite low till recently. Media usage and utility is obviously correlated with literacy rates; low literacy rates mean low take up and consumption of media. While literacy rates have picked up enormously in Kashmir over the years, this has translated into a degree of increase in the usage and employment of media; however, again, the gains are not too great. Most of the interest in media in Kashmir revolves around sensationalism and that too of a political nature. (With the prolongation of the conflict in and over Kashmir, this too has reached diminishing returns, so to speak). Other interest pertains to employment ads, business ads and to some extent interest in general information by civil services aspirants.
Contemporarily, other reasons in the sparse interest in media, media activism by consumers of media like society and government also pertain to the conflict in and over in Kashmir. The conflict has bred cynicism in people over the nature of news and activism by media and the agendas thereof. Undoubtedly, at times some persons associated with the media have not been ethically oriented but this should not mean tarring the entire media-scape of Kashmir with the same brush. Having said this, perceptions matter and perceptions plus reputation are sticky.
Broadly speaking then, media in Kashmir suffer from a generic reason of disinterest and cynicism.
This is both a travesty and a tragedy. The media is, in theory and in practice supposed to be a watchdog, promoter of public good, general and particular interest and also education/information and providing pointers and areas of concern and redress to society and government. The media then has a critical and important social, political, economic and conscientious role in society. This assumes significance in a conflict condition wherein the media, if it is well and truly ethical and conscientious can play a mediating and an information role which throws light on conditions that generate conflict. But alas, all this is given short shrift in Kashmir.
This has obvious consequences. The primary one is that people instead of trusting the media as the first source of information trust and rely on other sources where noise and peoples filters and biases affect the tenor and nature of information and news. Second, the media also loses its activist and fourth estate guardian and watchdog role; Government does not treat it seriously and the pointers that media provides get lost in the process. Last, given this disinterest by social, political and governmental stakeholders, media becomes a hollow medium; it becomes perfunctory and irrelevant in the process.
All this, to repeat, constitutes a travesty; it has obvious repercussions that go beyond the problems we have delineated here. A robust media and media scape complemented by a free and robust civil society is a reflection of a healthy society and polity. That we are lacking in both merely reflects and suggests the health of both in Kashmir- a portrait or even a reality that is sobering to consider, to say the least.
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