KEG and Kashmir media

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Kashmir Editors Guild held its first marathan meeting on Wednesday presided over by its newly elected president Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo. The meeting discussed many urgent issues facing the media in Kashmir, more so, in the wake of the five month long uprising which like other institutions had its fallout on the media too. At the peak of the unrest, Government banned the publication of newspapers in Valley for several days. The police was sent to the printing presses to prevent them from publishing the papers. Even now, Government continues to ban the  publication of Kashmir Reader, one of the local papers. And despite protests and calls by the local media to lift the ban, the government has refused to reconsider its decision. The Guild has now once again asked the government to lift the ban on the paper immediately so that it can resume its publication.. It is to be seen how Government will choose to respond.

The Guild has also set for itself the ambitious goal of protecting the integrity of the local journalism.  Despite its share of controversies, its failures on many counts, media in Kashmir is a huge success story. A place which had no press worth its name till the end of eighties has now a media industry that is bustling, livewire and happening. Though it will be still very premature to say it has come of age, Kashmir media is nevertheless evolving fast.

Journey for the past two decades has been remarkable: For the first time in our history of journalism, we have a robust English press which despite many shortcomings has conducted itself along broad professional lines.  It may have struggled with balance, under-reported the stories and over-exaggerated the facts of some incidents and events, but the overall job is the job done well.  More so, when we consider that with the sudden outbteak of the conflict in late eighties, the Kashmir press had to jump headlong into action without the necessary means and resources to do its job.

There was only a rudimentary media infrastructure to build upon and little professional reporting talent to count on. But these drawbacks didn’t faze the press in Valley. It soon acquired a tone and tenor, frame and sense that was essentially Kashmiri and gave vent to an intrinsically Kashmiri outlook on the unfolding momentous situation – albeit with all its contradictions.

But along the way, Kashmir media has also developed its typical flaws and weaknesses, some of them typical of the media in conflict.  Some of the major problems bedeviling the freedom of expression in the state are its precarious finances.  Being a place with only a fledgeling private sector and little industrial presence, government advertising is a significant source of revenue for the newspapers. This gives  government enormous power to influence news agenda. Besides, there are many other conflict-related issyes which have  created a suffocating environment of self-censorship in the news organizations putting hurdles in the reporting every step of the way. But now is the time to deal with, if not confront, these challenges.  The media in Kashmir has an overriding need to introspect and formulate an ethical framework within which to carry on its work. And the Guild has to  helm this change.

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