Shujaat Bukhari is a Srinagar-based journalist. Currently Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based daily, he has in the past been Bureau Chief of The Hindu. Shujaat has survived three assassination attempts during his challenging career. He did his Masters in Journalism from Ateneo de Manila University, Manila as a fellow of Asian Centre for Journalism, Singapore. He is a recipient of the World Press Institute (WPI) USA fellowship and Asian Centre for Journalism Singapore fellowship. He is a permanent fellow at both institutions. Bukhari has also been a fellow at East West Centre at Hawaii USA. Quite a fellow!
Striking The Right Chord
The Chandigarh-based newspaper, Tribune recently made an entry into the media scenario in Jammu and Kashmir by launching its Jammu Tribune supplement. Of course, dedicating a few pages to the affairs of the state by regional and national newspapers is not new, but the way Tribune has started presenting it is significant.
With the unprecedented revolution in information technology in the last decade, conflicting trends have emerged in the media scene. In contrast to shrinking space for newspapers in the United States of America and other western countries, more newspapers have started appearing on news stalls in India. News dissemination through social media and online has not really made a difference as only three per cent of India’s population in India has direct access to the internet. That is why the Hindi press in India is getting stronger and there is hardly any decline in the readership of English newspapers as well.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the scene is no different. From not more than 30 registered newspapers in 1989, the number has already crossed 800. Although it’s a fact that only a handful of newspapers in English and Urdu have a stable readership, the enthusiasm of becoming an ‘Editor’ of a daily (even if it has a circulation of a 100 copies) has not shown any sign of diminishing.
While the problems of local newspapers (except a few) have not ended, the national newspapers have started looking for a closer connect with readers in Jammu and Kashmir. The launch of Tribune Jammu is part of that experiment. One cannot jump to any conclusions about the failure or success of Tribune in eating up a share of the readership base which earlier read the other leading English newspapers in Jammu. But this success would certainly depend on how the newspaper would deal with local issues. Jammu already has a taste of the local editions of Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran, both leading Hindi newspapers from mainland India. After expanding their bureaus, both launched full-fledged editions from the city, thus making a huge dent into the circulation base of the one-time ‘king’ of Hindi journalism in the north, Hind Samchar and to an extent to Dainik Kashmir Times. With a variety of material from local to national and international affairs, both newspaper shares made a difference in the market.
The English newspapers such as The Hindustan Times, The Times of India and The Indian Express had started devoting a few pages to the state much earlier. The Indian Express had even gone ahead and initiated a tie-up with a local newspaper. However, the experiment failed since the circulation with which these newspapers held command over the market decreased considerably. Since readers had developed a taste of reading a national newspaper to keep abreast of what was happening in the rest of India, they started losing interest in the local editions. This was precisely the reason Indian Express reverted to catering to the local market with the Delhi edition. While Jammu might not have any ideological problem with the political discourse the national media would bring, this would surely strike the wrong chord in politically volatile Kashmir.
The Hindu recently shifted its printing centre to Mohali in Punjab to reach readers in Jammu by early morning. However, for Kashmir it had to double the price by an additional Rs 5 as air surcharge keeping in view the losses they were bearing on account of air freight. The Hindu till then had the distinction of being number 2 in the Valley, but with Rs 10 as its new price readers started feeling the heat which might result in them switching over to the online edition. In fact, this rise in price has cost the paper its circulation in the Valley as its circulation of around went down by nearly 350 copies a day.
The only experiment done in Kashmir so far is of Quami Awaz, the Urdu newspaper which happened to be the mouthpiece of Congress. With good quality news presentation and a reader – friendly layout, it was launched in 1989. It carved a niche for itself and to an extent pushed aside Aftab and Srinagar Times – the two leading Urdu dailies of that time. However, it failed the test when an armed rebellion broke out in the same year and it could not synchronise its editorial policy with the political aspirations of the people. The result was that it was closed down within a few months of its remarkable success in the market.
Launching an edition of a national newspaper from a place like Kashmir cannot be a cakewalk. Its success is caveated with the ‘compromise’ on a dotted nationalistic line. Like in the pre-freedom era of United India, newspapers such as The Times of India, The Statesman and The Independent were way ahead in technology and presentation, but failed to make a constituency among the public as they were perceived as being close to the British rulers. In that vacuum, lesser quality papers like Harijan and The Hindustan Times clicked with the people as they were seen to represent their voice.
Similarly, in Kashmir a national newspaper has to take a stand, and it remains to be seen whether it can compromise on the larger ‘national issues’. Coverage of day-to-day problems of governance and daily events is not a problem for any newspaper that comes from outside Kashmir, but to identify its stand on political issues is the real test. Even local newspapers face ire on account of what many people think is ‘going against dominant local sentiment’.
The entry of national newspapers in the Valley is not a major threat to local journalism. The national media cannot possibly devote the space and depth to happenings in the state the way the local media can. Besides highlighting government activities, there is little scope for the issues thrown up as a consequence of the conflict. But their arrival in the market would definitely help them reach out to their existing readers early in the morning. Also, by no stretch of the imagination can the local advertisement market shift easily to higher rate structure of national newspapers so easily. The entry of the national press into Kashmir however, will open opportunities for more young journalists to get better salaries, which in any case is good for the growth of the institution.