THE fourth estate in India-held Kashmir is in peril. Willing collaborator-journalists have made the institution of journalism the lapdog of the state by not calling out its follies, and by muddying IHK’s political narrative in line with the Indian state’s interests.

A recent report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) highlighted how government clampdowns on media houses through censorship, arm-twisting curbs on advertising, and intimidation by the intelligence agencies is threatening essential journalism in IHK. The findings of the report hardly come as a surprise to local intelligentsia.

But the IFJ report, like previous other reports, failed to identify that the biggest danger to the institution of journalism in IHK is from journalists itself. It didn’t articulate details such as how the state doles out sops to journalists to prevent them from reporting the on-the-ground reality of the situation in IHK.

The obfuscation of the reality of IHK’s political issue involves the complicity of journalists.

Here in IHK, who in the media carries out the government’s ‘dirty work’ is common knowledge, but it’s seldom spoken about. So overarching is the state’s influence on local media houses that none raised a voice against the arrest of a 22-year-old Kashmiri photojournalist, Kamran Yousuf, charged by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) with being a “stone-pelter”.

The NIA told the court that Yousuf was not a “real journalist” because he didn’t cover the “developmental activity of any government department” or the “statements of any political party in power”. “Kamran Yusuf had hardly taken any video of such activity and video or image of any such activity can rarely been seen in his laptop or mobile which clearly show his intention to only cover the activities which are anti-national and earn money against such footages,” the charge sheet read.

In essence, the NIA was telling the court that Yousuf didn’t uphold the “moral duty of a journalist” because he didn’t support the state and its forces’ narrative. Contrary to its claim, Yousuf often performed his duties to the best of his ability, all the while dodging bullets and stones. He covered pro-freedom protests, gun battles and other aspects of the interminable conflict in IHK — coverage that was picked up by leading media organisations.

By arresting him for being an ‘unreal’ journalist, the Indian government, through the NIA, has again signalled to the press that they would court trouble by reporting the facts about IHK. The message hit home loud and clear — the media did not come to Yousuf’s defence. Only a passing reference to his arrest was made. Even the organisations for which he worked dumped him.

These are the kinds of pressures journalists who refuse to comply with the state face. By taming the media, the state has succeeded in muddying the waters about the real happenings in IHK. Journalists who do the state’s bidding are the “real journalists” in the eyes of the state and intelligence agencies.

Ironically, those “real journalists” are sometimes also hosted by the Pakistani media to help build a narrative on IHK for international audiences. Observers in IHK fail to make sense of why such journalists are invited, as their views on

the situation in IHK are too cluttered for even the ordinary Kashmiri.

There are, however, some conscientious reporters who reflect the true reality of IHK — whether that goes against pro-India parties, pro-freedom groups, rebels or the Indian forces. They are uncompromising in their pursuit of the truth. Young Yousuf was trying to do the same.

The obfuscation of Kashmir’s political narrative does not end here. The media in New Delhi continues to galvanise public opinion on IHK in line with the official narrative to whip up hysteria for ‘war’ with Kashmiris and also with Pakistan. It completely turns a blind eye towards the bloodshed and the political realities existing on the ground — the hard truth that Kashmiris are, by and large, indigenously fighting for the right to self determination on the streets.

Like the mainstream Indian media, many Indian liberals also play with the facts and reinforce the official narrative in a roundabout way. These liberals are equally immune to the plight and struggle of Kashmiris. Two years ago, noted journalist and diplomat Kuldip Nayar warned Kashmiris against trying to force a solution through armed struggle because India has far more guns than they can ever have. At a recent seminar in Srinagar, Prof Hameeda Nayeem of Kashmir University remarked that it has become a habit of Indian liberals to frame the Kashmir dispute within the state discourse, wondering why Indian (liberal) journalists lack the “moral courage and independent thought to advocate truth and justice”. She asked Siddharth Varadarajan, journalist and founding editor of The Wire and also in attendance, why he was soft on the army while asking Kashmiris to “find their own way to shun the path that leads to violence”.

Far from debating IHK and building a narrative, the Pakistani media doesn’t even report the daily happenings in the valley. It rarely airs programmes on IHK. Some Pakistani journalists quote from the distorted narrative of India’s media and ‘liberal’ journalists. That leaves many Kashmiris bewildered. They fail to understand how Pakistan’s media fails to articulate the reason why IHK’s people — young, old, men and women — are braving bullets and pellets to take to the streets. They don’t expect Pakistan to fight their war, but they do expect the country to counter the negative propaganda of the “real journalists” and the mainstream Indian media.

Speaking on the issue, a journalist friend expressed his utter frustration with the distorted version of reality being presented about IHK in the media. “Isn’t it obvious what the people in Kashmir want?” he wondered. “Aren’t the

lines between the oppressed and the oppressor clear? Where lies the confusion? In the minds of journalists or the people?”

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018

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