‘Once you are into journalism you can’t leave it’

Afshana Farooq and Asiya Tabasum interviewed Editor of recently-banned daily, Kashmir Reader, Hilal Mir and asked him about his journalistic career, the ban on the newspaper and his advice to would-be journalists. Excerpts:

Tell us about your journalistic journey.

My journalism career was not planned. I was a chartered accountancy student in New Delhi and had very serious case of malaria. I had to return home and it took me five to six months to recover from the disease. Gradually I lost my interest in chartered accountancy. Then I joined Mass Communication and Journalism Department in Kashmir University and became serious about it. And once you are into journalism you can’t leave it then.

After completing my course I joined Greater Kashmir. It was a very powerful institution and fiercely independent where I worked for 9 years from 2001 to 2009.

Was it a conscious and thoughtful decision to join journalism?

No, it was not at all a thoughtful decision. Actually one of my friends who was already doing Mass Communication and Journalism course from Kashmir University told me that you don’t have to work hard for Mass Communication, you can do it easily. So I applied for Mass Communication course.

Journalism in Kashmir is fraught with risk and danger, and also you don’t earn a handsome salary here. Did you know these things when you decided to join this profession?

That is a choice we make. I could have gone back to chartered accountancy again and by now I would have been a millionaire. We make choices and we stick to them. I never thought of doing anything else after that.

You have worked with Hindustan Times in the past. Tell us the difference between working in non-conflict zone and a conflict zone like Kashmir. Does the journalism rules change or they remain the same?

Journalism in Kashmir and in different states of India are entirely two different worlds.  India is a free country while as Kashmir, as majority believes, is under military occupation. So the rules and dynamics change here. Normally there are cases on controversies against media, but in no case you’ll find that any newspaper has been banned or any reporter has been arrested or booked.

There are different kinds of organisations. There are large organisations like Times of India, Hindustan Times, etc., and even small organisations like in Jammu and Kashmir which subsist on government advertisements and where we have less salary.

In terms of professionalism I would say Kashmiri newspapers by and large are good. Some of my best experiences in journalism have been in Greater Kashmir and in Kashmir Reader. Doing stories which I don’t think any newspaper would publish, writing the stories which I want to write and publish it without the fear of having it stopped by the owner.

Some people say that you have turned journalism into activism. “Kashmir Reader was a mouthpiece of pro-freedom camp,” they say. How would you react to such a remark?

People have perceptions. If we publish reports of, for example, a pro-freedom protest on the front page of our newspaper, some other newspaper prints it to page 10. But it’s a mass protest and it deserves page 1. Naturally we will be labelled as pro-freedom while as what we are doing is reporting the story. We don’t mind those labels; they can say anything but newspapers are judged on the basis of reportage.

When a 20-year-old youth was killed in Nadihal, Barmulla, on 1 September, Kashmir Reader gave the caption to a picture which showed people carrying his dead body, “People carry body of Danish Manzoor martyred on Wednesday. ” This is how a Hurriyat press note would put it, but should a journalist too put it like that, considering the set-up journalists are working in Kashmir these days?

If it is biased towards truth, I don’t mind it. They are martyrs. Even Chief Minister of the state has acknowledged them as martyrs. She said, “I won’t let their sacrifice go waste”. Sacrifice is made by a martyr. Who will object the word martyr here? Who in the government is above the Chief Minister?

In an opinion piece in Hindustan Times during the 2010 agitation titled ‘How I became a stone thrower for a day’, you wrote: “I picked up a stone from the debris of a housing cluster burnt by CRPF soldiers in 1990 and hurled it at the soldiers, a few of whom were filming the stone-throwers with mini-cams.” Do you regret today writing such thing?

I do not regret it and I don’t think even the newspaper regretted that they published it and now it has been published in an anthology,  that article is a part of a book now. So I don’t regret it. That was a momentary reaction which I felt like any other person that time. I deliberately in a way broke one principle of journalism which is to be a neutral observer. I wanted to make a statement like what it means to feel. I think by throwing that stone I conveyed it better than if I had merely been a spectator.

The Tribune reported on 21 November regarding the ban on Kashmir Reader. It said, “Sources in administration told The Tribune that before the ban order, the newspaper was served several notices to mend its ways and not to publish news items which could incite violence in the state, especially in the Valley. The proprietor and the Editor of the newspaper even agreed to follow the directions and work accordingly but they continued publishing such items which forced the government to ban the publication of the newspaper.” How true is this claim?

Let them show one order which they have served except this ban order or let them show one email in which they have warned us. This is for the first time that they have served us formally. This story is based on some anonymous source.

Murtaza Shibli, a journalist who wrote many opinion pieces for KR, wrote on Facebook post-KR ban, “The ban is supported by a newspaper editor and owner…” How true are his claims?

Our owner had replied at the same time to his post that we don’t subscribe to such views. It’s evident who ordered the ban: government ordered the ban and Deputy Commissioner issued the orders. Kashmir Editors’ Guild supported us, they had a meeting with Mehbooba ji. This thing is evident that they supported us. How do we know that they are supporting the ban?

Media gag during uprisings in Kashmir has become a new normal here. Why is government so afraid of media? Does the media really pose threat to it?

What state has been doing is atrocious. They have killed, blinded children, ransacked homes, burned transformers, arrested thousands. So if it is reported in its true form, that is a big embarrassment for the government. Obviously government won’t want this to be published.

It’s also about questioning like who has questioned the state government why have you used such disproportionate force. If you study 2008 agitation, in Jammu they burnt drivers, killed two policemen, attacked police stations and Army convoy but nobody was killed there and none was blinded.

Would you prefer journalism as a profession in Kashmir to your son, since you know the pros and cons of this profession here? What will be your suggestion to those who are new to it or mulling to be a part of this profession in Kashmir?

I would not push my son into this profession but if he wants to then I’ll encourage him.

Professional journalism comes with such risks. If anybody plans a career in journalism, he or she has to think about these things. If you have all the sides of the story, unless the government is in a vindictive mode, which is the case this time. Otherwise all newspapers carried crop burning reports and police sent rebuttals. But rebuttals were sent after having filed the FIR.  If they would have sent the rebuttals before we could have carried it in the newspaper. The newspaper was banned after three days after this news was published.

If you want to join journalism you have to be ready for risks.

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