The press across the world is known as the fourth estate of democracy, but in Kashmir, like every other thing about democracy, this saying too changes. From prominent newspapers to the lesser known ones, news in Kashmir comes in shades, and they’re mostly shades of mendacity.

The burning issue of the unmarked mass graves and the indictment of a senior police officer in a fake encounter case, which were both broken out to the public by Indian Express, were barely reported by local newspapers. I don’t entirely blame newspapers for producing inaccurately; neither do I feel that the reason is their incompetence to report. But for reasons better known to them, people don’t always see what they should in newspapers across Kashmir.

Without defaming organisations in the valley, there are actually too many newspapers, this only confuses people further. One sees exceptional reporting when a new organisation pops up, only to become like the rest with time. And then, all efforts by them seem more like an invite for advertisers.

When I discussed the matter with a local reporter, he was of the opinion that people like me, who run an alternate media source have no right to question the media.

The bulk of the news comes from the national media of India instead of the local media of the valley. Tehelka has reported some serious issues of the valley and The Indian Express has almost all investigative stories in its credit.

When the situation, in any region, takes such a turn then it sprouts a new medium - alternative media. It happens mostly in every part of the world, and is more often than not silenced. In Kashmir, alternative media has earned it’s credibility from its readers as what we publish is hardly ever seen in mainstream newspapers or magazines.

Lately websites, blogs, social media services, video banks, email groups, twitter and various other public forums that are giving a voice to the unheard stories of Kashmiris are flourishing. However, this is done at the cost of high risk.

Often website owners are threatened and abused, their public image is destroyed, making the job that much difficult. I am glad that despite the odds, they continue their work. Isn’t it important to preserve such mediums when stories are censored like they never existed?

Recently, a local news website was hacked. The entire data of the online magazine was removed. Fortunately, there were back-up files and everything was restored. These needless tribulations only cause hindrances in bringing forward the true face of Kashmir.

Especially considering how pertinent the need for alternative media in Kashmir is becoming. Kashmiris want to narrate their stories, now more than ever before. In fact young Kashmiri writers are inspired by this very work and prefer to write independently than being associated with local organisations.

The choice to work independently also stems from the fact that the initial pay is a mere $60 per month for work that is worth about $400, compelling journalists to leave the valley and work in parts of the world where their work receives its due credit.

However, it is also true that alternate media houses pay less or not at all as they don’t have the resources. Still, some writers prefer the freedom.

During the 2010 mass public protests, many Kashmiris chose to broadcast the situation of the valley through Facebook, Twitter and some independent websites. Now, especially after what happened in the Arab Spring and the role played by alternate media houses and social networking websites, people of the valley are with great hope coming forward with their stories.

 

Fahad Shah is a journalist based in Srinagar. He is the editor of The Kashmir Walla.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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