On World Press Day, there has been little soul searching in Kashmir about the state of media. True, Kashmir Editors Guild held a meeting in which they paid tributes to the journalists slain over the turmoil of past thirty years. The Guild noted with dismay that the investigations in all of those killings have yet to reach their logical conclusions. The editors praised the resilience and commitment of the working journalists from print, digital and broadcast media who represent Kashmir and non-Kashmir organizations. The Kashmiri journalists have displayed exemplary courage and competence to get the story and show the world the situation as it really is and allow the unheard to find a voice. They have also played a role in articulating a very complex situation largely free of the political and ideological bias unlike many of their counterparts from outside the state. The Guild also decided to institute three media awards from next year, one each for best story in Urdu and English and the best news photograph of the year. These awards would be restricted to the reporters working for the media outlets within the state of J&K.
However, the challenges for Kashmir media are formidable. The media in Kashmir, comprising of a robust English and vernacular press, online sites and a few fledgling cable television channels, has a particularly unenviable job to do. The problems faced by it are both universal to the conflict situations and unique to the state. One of the major problem bedeviling the freedom of expression in the state is the economic sustainability of the local newspapers. Being a place with only a fledgling private sector and little industrial presence, government advertising is a predominant source of revenue for the newspapers. This gives government enormous power to influence news agenda. There is similarly also a reluctance to take on a few major business houses in the state who contribute advertisements. This renders the local press prone to the pulls and pressures from the various interests in the state, albeit on the whole, the local media has managed to skirt such pressures and done an excellent job of covering the prevailing extraordinary situation in the state.
This is despite the fact that compared to the other conflict situations in the world, the media in the state is perennially caught between three parallel narratives Indian, Pakistani and Kashmirs own grassroots discourse. These narratives clash, compromise and overlap on a daily basis. Every incident and event in the state has therefore a three-dimensional reality that often ends up obscuring their true import. While this reality of Kashmir will take time to sort out, the immediate challenges facing the media in the state is its economic viability. A disproportionate and unfair disparity in the distribution of advertisements among various newspapers is making things really difficult for some of the oldest and widely circulated newspapers including Kashmir Observer. This policy is patently against the freedom of expression and should end immediately if the state Government seeks to encourage professionalism in the local media. And the media organizations, on their part, have a responsibility to fight this favouritism in the distribution of the official adverts as it threatens the viability of the genuine local press.
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