How Social Media ‘Clowns’ Are Degrading Journalism in Kashmir

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With the arrest of a social media ‘journalist’ in a sensational con case, the debate has once again started how some mike-men and Facebook page admins are bringing disrepute to the media profession.

ON August 27, 2021, Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested Imran Ahmad Ganie, aka Shahid Imran, the self-styled “editor-in-chief” of Facebook page—Kashmir Crown—in a case of fraud and extortion. The online shrill over the scam tried to cast the shadow over the entire tribe, forcing some senior scribes to counter the kneejerk reaction: “One swallow doesn’t make summer.”

But in this attempt ‘to set the records straight’, many questioned the media bodies for allowing the “clowns to become crowns”, who bring a bad name to the profession by playing with the public emotions.

Amid this debate, cops said that they received an order from court of law for lodging a case—with FIR number 145/2021—against Imran and his deputy, Ashiq Mir, under Sections 384 (Extortion), 385 (Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion), 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), 420 (Cheating and dishonestly) and 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

The alleged journalist would publish emotionally-charged videos on Facebook pages and other social media accounts and collect funds for the poor families through “Kashmir Crown Trust”. But one such fundraising campaign landed him in the trouble.

“This sentimental and social media driven journalism is unfortunately wooing masses in Kashmir,” a senior editor running a daily from Srinagar said.

“This form of journalism has widened the gap, with people losing trust on the professional media houses.”

Taking note of this menace, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on August 2, 2021 sought response from the government over the mushrooming growth of news agencies on social media, especially those involved in “fake news circulation”.

The court was acting on a petition stating that there has been a rapid increase in social media based news platforms, which are responsible for circulation of fake news and other unethical and unprofessional acts.

“The state is complicit and won’t stop it, so the professional journalists should chip in,” said Tariq Bhat, a senior journalist working with The Week.

“My point is when the state is not doing anything, the journalist community led by Kashmir Press Club should frame a body of all unions and keep a tab on this menace.”

Bhat who has an experience of more than 20 years in the field of journalism suggested that the body should frame strict criteria for being a journalist in Kashmir.

“At least a person should be a media graduate,” he said. “Everyone can’t be a journalist. Such people are just there to create confusion.”

Bashir Manzar, editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Images maintained that the onus lies on the government and people to tackle the “pimps”—giving a bad name to journalism.

“My grievance is when bureaucrats and police officials accommodate these social media clowns by giving them press bytes etc, it ultimately gives them credibility,” Manzar said.

“On the other side, a genuine reporter finds it hard to talk to an official for his stories.”

These social media reporters are not accountable to anyone for their wrongdoings, the editor said.

“Although this phenomenon is not confined to Kashmir only, the government needs to keep a tab on it and the people should check the authenticity of these Facebook pages before trusting them.”

The relation between social media and journalism is still evolving and the former, to some extent, is also shaping the latter, said newsman Anees Zargar, who has a Masters in Mass Communication from Islamic University of Science and Technology.

“If anyone among the journalist community commits a crime, the entire fraternity cannot be held responsible for it,” Zargar said in the backdrop of the recent online backlash where many attempted to ‘generalise’ their viewpoint against media professionals.

“An individual act at the end of the day cannot define a collective and people in this age especially those with access to knowledge and information cannot plead ignorant.”

The recent case also highlighted how some of these social media news peddlers enjoy some kind of patronage.

“Without any backing,” argued Moazum Mohammad, vice president of the Kashmir Press Club, “this social media journalism won’t survive.”

So there’s someone who wants them there and funds them for their survival, Moazum, who writes for India Today, said.

Questioning the government’s role in embedding Facebook journalists, the scribe said, “They are the first to reach government pressers and first to get police press-releases. The government shouldn’t open this shop in the name of journalism.”

Because of this unchecked and unregulated practice, there’ll be a trust-deficit between general public and journalists, Moazum feared.

“But saying that,” he concluded, “this menace has already hit the professionals.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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