Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Journalist's Dilemma

Sajjad addresses the grey area when a reporter becomes the subject

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 44, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Reporting in a Conflict: Should journalists silently observe or actively participate?

In today's modern era, conflict is ubiquitous. Our response to conflict has been mainly focused on emergency relief where we arm ourselves with blankets, medicines and occasionally a well-laid out plan drafted to control the conflict situation. Even as this type of support is vital for those caught in the conflict, the need to be informed is equally critical. Here emerges the role of media by providing the people in a conflict zone with long-term and sometimes life-saving social support through the means of information.

Today, once again one of the prevailing debates in the academic fraternity of journalism is objectivity, whether it is possible and to what extant it is the best vehicle to achieve the ultimate goal of the media – the truth. The debate of impartiality and balance has remained an important discourse in media circles.

The war in the former Yugoslavia precipitated a number of journalists on the front line to question their roles and professional ideals of objectivity and detachment. Indeed, it was this conflict, which saw veteran war correspondent Martin Bell coining the term journalism of attachment. He defines journalism of attachment as a journalism which recognises the media as part of this world and one 'that is aware of its responsibilities, that will not stand neutrally between good and evil, right and wrong, the victim and the oppressor'. In fact, no one should be proud of being neutral in the face of a conflict, which consumes innocent human lives.

Let us consider an example of why journalists shouldn't believe themselves to be a neutral observer or a witness to a conflict. A reporter in Bosnia wanted to get a story on a sniper, the soldiers causing most damage on the hills above Sarajevo. The reporter arranged to meet one in his position. The sniper caught two people in his viewfinder. The reporter asked, 'What do you see?' The sniper answered, 'I see two people walking in the street: which one of them do you want me to shoot?' The reporter, realising that he had made a grave error, urged the sniper not to shoot any of them, and turned to leave. As he did so, two shots were fired. The reporter looked at the sniper, who said, 'That was a pity, you could have saved one of their lives'

The journalism of attachment means that journalistic objectivity in war is inappropriate and unworkable and there are arguments in favour of moral journalism that tries to get closer to the truth. However, contrary to this, there are arguments believing that such an adoption of subjective reporting is very dangerous.

With these academic discourses in mind, I have chosen to look at the issues of objectivity in a conflict zone like Kashmir, which has witnessed a series of wars between two countries – India and Pakistan. Even as objectivity or detachment should be the ideal of conflict reporting, we should also have a moral reporting that highlights the problems in the conflict zone. While aspects of journalism of attachment have many qualities, such as a caring reporting to the suffering people of the conflict, leaving behind objectivity in journalism leads down a path that could result in the truth from being lost.

Where there is highly biased and government governed media in a country it is even more essential that professional journalists reporting on events in that part have to maintain due impartiality and objectivity. Reporting on different cultural contexts in a various conflict zone is often defamatory and malicious. Media has to keep itself away from biased reporting on nationalism, patriotism and other diverse issues in conflict zones.

The privatization of electronic media has to ensure that there is an end to the State media monopoly which is most of the times biased. Here the private electronic media channels have got to be so careful with their political correctness, don't say this don't say that, and make sure at the end of the day they present a balanced news report. Perceiving bias and exaggeration in news reports is definitely going to kill their credibility. So, it is the media's responsibility to remain completely objective when reporting news, political or not.

A journalist should sometimes embrace passionate, moral journalism instead of standing back and watching people suffer in the name of objectivity. This emotional journalism has attracted us into questioning the role of objectivity on the front line, believing that it gets in the way of truthful reporting. However, this idea has drawn criticism from other academics and practitioners of journalism, who note how the truth can be blurred because journalists become personally embroiled or even fail to understand the political context in where they work,
One should examine the relationship between the professional commitments and personal moralities, and how the represented political context affects the journalists' judgments and actions in the two works. Advocates of Journalism of attachment seek a greater truth in conflict reporting than the one that they are restrained to tell by the handcuffs of objectivity. Basically, we should seek a moral journalism - a journalism that cares as well as it knows. One thing is most crucial. A journalist must be careful not to become 'more important than the event and he should not even prescribe how the audience should feel and react.

As a student of journalism, today I feel that the journalism of attachment has opened a wider debate on objectivity, especially in conflict reporting situation like in Kashmir. In a situation prevailing here, should journalists take sides if there is a clear case of morally right and wrong? Should we give up on objectivity and leave it to journalists to dictate what is right and wrong for the people? Undoubtedly, conflict reporting is unique. Nevertheless, objectivity is possible in all situations, but not in the strict outdated form prevalent in the media psyche.

Journalism of attachment and detachment have their merits. Today one of the pertinent questions of journalism is that whether a journalist should remain an impartial detached observer of an event rather than a subjective partial participant. While academically debating this issue, there emerges one simple and straight answer – the journalists should always act as an observer just to get to the truth. But, here again, a million dollar question arises.

Can this professional ideal be practiced in the unique sphere of conflict situation like the one prevailing in Kashmir?

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