The ghost journalists of Kashmir
By Ishfaq Ahmad Shah
News is an obtainable version of truth and as a student of journalism I learnt that it is a crime if we, intentionally or unintentionally, hide the truth or a part of the obtained truth. A good journalist will try to highlight all the versions of an issue that concerns a particular section of the society.
Recently, a senior journalist from Kashmir and a good friend, Naseer Ganai did a literal post-mortem of issues concerning the young journalists of the Kashmir valley in the article, “Young journalists should fight for their rights” published on The Hoot and The Kashmir Walla. It raised many serious issues and highlighted a few problems faced by the upcoming journalists in this conflict ridden region. The writer gave a vivid picture of the unfavourable environment the young journalists work in and also described the role of the sub-editors cum government servants, local media organisations and the journalism schools as an impediment in the growth and alarmingly increasing dispassionate attitude among the new breed of talented journalists towards pursuing a career in journalism here.
Off course, the points highlighted by the writer are the issues that need to be discussed and deliberated upon, however, as a member of the club “Young journalists”, as described by him, I believe there are much bigger issues that are of equal importance and also act as major hindrance for the survival of young journalists in the field. The issues least talked about but put under scanner the role of the senior journalists working in the valley.
To explain it further, let’s examine and analyse the role of the senior journalists; specifically, the role of bureau chiefs and the correspondents of various national media organisations operating in the valley. How often, not as a reader, but as journalists we come across bylines like Mushtaq Ahmad’s, Syed Mohsin’s and many such names that appear occasionally in the leading local newspapers and magazines.
Formerly, being a part of one of the local newspapers and spending much of my time at the Press Enclave (which is spread on a small area), I never saw many of these people who exist in the bylines above some important news items but cease to exist physically. One wonders who these guys are. Are they freelancers, some government employees who use pseudo names to highlight some issues or are they the sub-editors cum government servants as pointed by Naseer. Digging a bit deep, one finds they aren’t any of the people mentioned above but ironically these “ghost journalists” are the senior reporters who use bylines other than their original ones and keep on holding the positions within the media organisations without being on the papers.
Despite earning good money and reputation as being associated with various International and national news organisations, the question arises that why do they act as “ghost who can write”. One can easily comprehend that the reason is that it is the ‘greed’ to earn easy and more money. It is worth mentioning that this is a common scene in Kashmir where you can find senior and the senior most reporters, correspondents working with various organisations and using these “Ghost names”. Not to mention that some people just alter their surnames here and there and keep on occupying opportunities that could have helped a young reporter to cement his/her place in the local media.
In the above article, the author pointed out that the local media organisations exploit the young journalists but forgot to mention that if the seniors leave almost no opportunity for the young reporter, there remains no option for the later to land up in the local media organisations and become a subject to the “exploitation.” After all the young have no options to explore because the senior pals are selfishly holding on to multiple work prospects in a limited media sphere in Kashmir.
In such circumstances, a young but talented journalist is left with no option but to succumb to the diktat of the local media organisations or he/she explores options like Information officers, public relations officer (PRO) and if worst; a bank clerk’s job.
Moreover, is there any harm in applying for jobs like PRO’s or Information Officer’s? After all corporate communication and the public relations form an inseparable part of the syllabi in Mass Communications and Journalism taught in Kashmir and elsewhere.
The author urged the young journalist to fight for their rights but I think he forgot that as a senior it was him and many like him who actually helped the local media organisations to monopolise like the way he mentioned. The seniors happily accepted and worked according to the guidelines set by the news organisations in the valley, thus setting precedence for the journalist that were set to follow. The juniors just followed and fell in the trap knit by the seniors over the years.
Without introspecting, as a last resort, the seniors come down heavily on the Journalism schools and the faculty teaching at these fewer institution. Ironically, it has become a norm in the valley that even if a journalism student learns nothing while he/she is enrolled in a journalism department in the Kashmir University (KU), the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) or any other place, the students surely learn to disgrace and disown the teachers there. Yet again, it is the seniors who waste no time in teaching this lesson to the young reporters. I have experienced this; thanks largely to the senior journalists who do nothing but criticise.
If the teachers are the part of the problem then it becomes the responsibility of the senior fellows in the field to help eradicating the issues concerning the media studies in Kashmir. As of now, I came across one such group that showed concern in this regard. Few years back a group of senior journalists went to the KU to bring in a change within a department they were alumni of. They visited the campus few times, enjoyed high tea with university officials and digested everything. All they were able to do is to pass the legacy of back biting and criticizing on to the new pass-outs. Apart from guiding a few students to get adjusted in some media organisations and admissions in a few international universities, a revered journalist of Kashmir started a workshop, ‘Kashmir Writers Workshop’. The effort was appreciable; however, his promotion to a higher level within his organisation once again saw the young reporters guide less. His workshop still continues with his colleague, younger than him, taking forward the work he started. But no other senior journalist ever took pains and followed what he did.
One of the major things that these worthy seniors never miss to talk about is that news room turn into class rooms. This is common with every subject. People are taught the trade in a class room but they learn the tricks of the trade in the field. A Law graduate or an MBA degree holder doesn’t become a lawyer or an entrepreneur respectively overnight. They learn the art from the field as per the teachings in the class room and later on use it effectively. Journalism students are taught that they have to write in the field; how, what and why are the tricks of the trade that can only be learnt in the field.
Left with nothing, the seniors as well as the juniors question the selection and appointment of faculty in the journalism departments in all three universities in Kashmir. They forget that it is not the university that has set the criteria for the selection of faculty in these departments. It is the University Grants Commission (UGC) that has made the National Eligibility Test (NET) mandatory for selection of permanent faculty members at any university across India. The norm is adopted by the entire well known and the lesser known universities. If it is a fault it is not with the faculty, it is with the system. The system needs a change and as journalists we have the responsibility to highlight the fallacies in the system so that it can be rectified. We can always debate on whether the faculty presently teaching at various Journalism departments deserve to be there or not but as of now they are considered and surely are eligible to be a part of the departments as per the rules and regulations set by the UGC.
My worthy friend also suggested that there should be a change in faculty every year and the senior journalists should teach the students. In fact a valuable suggestion, but it seems that the senior lot seem to ignore the advertisements asking for contractual faculty members in every department. If there is a real concern then the seniors should miss no chance of applying. It will be a great service to the field of journalism. No one should stop them but why don’t they apply, if the question is about of a meagre sum of money to the contractual staff, the seniors do have the option of “ghost reporting” which should back their financial need.
There is much to talk about and many skeletons will tumble if an objective critique about role of journalists working in Kashmir is done but that may not be advisable at this point of time. While your advice to fight for our rights is well taken, it is worth suggesting that the seniors start introspecting. Time has come when we should start working together towards ending the monopoly and exploitation in the local media, evening journalism and more importantly the seniors must stop being “the ghosts who write.”
The author was working as journalist with Rising Kashmir Newspaper in Srinagar, Kashmir. Currently he teaches print media at Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir.