Bashir Manzar

Demonizing local media

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After August 05 last year, the politics of this Himalayan region (Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh) has undergone a phenomenal transformation. From Azadi to Autonomy, the discourse has shifted to restoration of statehood and some sort of domicile rights. The Azadi camp is completely out of circulation and so are the proponents of Autonomy and Self Rule.

Jammu and Kashmir is no longer a State. Its special status under Article 370 and 35-A has been scrapped. It has been split into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Ladakh seems happy despite some reservations in Kargil region. Kashmir is silent and Jammu protests occasionally (forced the Jammu & Kashmir High Court to withdraw an employment notice inviting applications from all over India).

Coinciding with the decision, scores of political leaders including those from the mainstream were arrested – while some of them have been released since, but many others, including three former chief ministers, are still under detention. Government also imposed restrictions to thwart any possible trouble. People closed their businesses for first few months and observed shutdown, again very strict. But government employees performed their duties and local police and judiciary functioned normally. After some time, the business-people also resumed their commercial activities. Students stayed away from schools but teaching and non-teaching staff was there. And parents ensured that their children attend private coaching centres.

This is how it was. And this all was reported by the local newspapers without fail, and that too with very little access to information because of the Internet blockade. But some “unidentified journalists” have taken it upon themselves to demonise the Kashmir media. They have been trying to portray Kashmir media as a ‘sold-out lot’. Without substantiating their arguments they accuse Kashmir media of not reporting the truth of, and about the Kashmir story.

The Kashmir media has stood all tests of times. It has lost lives of dozens of local journalists. The newspapers were forced to shut. Journalists were arrested, kidnapped, tortured and the list is too long. So the Kashmir media doesn’t need certificates from some pygmies, who, frustrated by their failures in the field, play in the hands of any kind of agency to remain relevant.

These elements, trying to prove themselves as true ‘Indian nationalists’ or the ‘hardcore Pakistan supporters’ have always tried to sell the narratives about Kashmir that suited their masters.

I, as an owner and editor of a newspaper, have ignored their nauseating tirades for so many years. But now I think we need to put the record straight.

Let them cite one protest post-August 05 that was not reported by the local media. Didn’t the media report the situation regularly? Did any political party, mainstream or separatist, issue some statement about what happened on August 05 and local media missed it? Answer is no.

Recently I had an opportunity to read a piece written by some Kashmiri journalist (who doesn’t want to be identified for security reasons?) on Pakistan’s Geo website. The writer, who could be anybody, has made wild allegations against the local media in a bid to provoke some kind of backlash at it, but chosen the safety of anonymity and secrecy for him/herself. This is hypocrisy at its best and duplicity at worst!

These ‘unidentified journalists’ have done lot of damage to the local media. They have collaborated in killings, kidnappings, arrests, torture of journalists and banning of newspapers. Time has come to identify and unmask them.

I am not going to explain anything to these fake and sponsored journalists. I owe no explanation to them. If I do, it is to my readers.

And I ask my readers, do they remember any protest post-August 05 which was not reported by the local media? Do they remember any killing post-August 05 which was not reported by local newspapers? Didn’t the local newspapers comment editorially about detentions? Did they ever see any local newspaper justifying Internet blockade? Haven’t we regularly been protesting against this blockade?

Through a brief story of mine, I want to tell these unidentified ‘media mercenaries’ to see what all the local media has gone through and still continued to do its job.

We faced everything, we faced anything, but we stood ground. This is my story, and I am sure there are hundreds of such stories with others which these ‘unidentified journalists’ have no idea about.

Then associate editor of ‘Greater Kashmir’, I along with the editor of Nida-e-Mashriq, Abdul Rashid, was abducted by counter-insurgent Kuka Parray and released only after the entire Kashmir media promised to publish his statements.

My ‘Kashmir Images’, when it was weekly, was banned by militants in 1997.

My then associate editor, Raouf Rasool, was picked up by SOG men in 1998 as we had done few stories, based on facts, about one of the strongest financial institutions of J&K.

There was a shootout in my office in 2002 and my colleague Zaffar Iqbal, suffered near-fatal hit in the head at the hands of ‘unidentified gunmen’.

We faced everything, we faced anything, but we stood ground. This is my story, and I am sure there are hundreds of such stories with others which these ‘unidentified journalists’ have no idea about.

In our recent past, 2019, advertisements were stopped to the largest circulated daily, ‘Greater Kashmir’ for eight long months. Editor and owner of ‘Greater Kashmir’, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo was summoned by NIA and questioned for 10 days. Advertisements to ‘Kashmir Reader’ are yet to be released. Did these ‘masked journalists’ ever utter a word about it?

‘Greater Kashmir’ has its story, so have the ‘Uqab’, the ‘Srinagar Times’ and ‘Chattan’ and ‘Kashmir Monitor’ and ‘Aftab’ and ‘Kashmir Reader’ and ‘Rising Kashmir’ and ‘Nida-i-Mashriq’ – all and every newspaper has its story which these so-called columnists have no idea about. Or they know it, but won’t talk about these stories because it goes against the slant and peg they want to persist with to suit their own, and masters’ designs.

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