Jammu-Kashmir’s moonlighting babus

BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Regional Media | 20/06/2016
Three govt employees have been suspended. Will it now curb a practice that affects journalism in the state adversely?
MOAZUM MOHAMMAD explains the problem
Letters issued to the erring employees

 

Finally, it appears that good sense has prevailed on the Jammu & Kashmir government. It plans to act against government employees moonlighting as journalists.

On June 16, the head of the Directorate of School Education in Kashmir, Shah Faesal, suspended two teachers, Syed Tahir Bukhari and Reyaz Ahmad Ganai who were moonlight for the daily Kashmir Images and the daily Early Times, for “duping the public by projecting themselves as journalists”.

Another teacher, Muneer Ahmad Dar, who worked with the daily Greater Kashmir as a reporter and used to use only his initials, M. A. Dar to avoid detection, was also suspended on Friday.

The action would appear selective as long as only three teachers among an army of employees moonlighting as journalists have been suspended. The government is quite aware of the people who work as journalists.

One example is Kashmir’s widely circulated daily Greater Kashmir. Its staff especially sub-editors and layout designers are government employees and the government is quite well aware of it. Take another case, Rising Kashmir, it has employed government employees as reporters and on the desk as well. Ironically, government employee of Information and Public Relations department also work on the desk for the newspaper.  Kashmir Reader has employed civil servants as well. Daily Kashmir Uzma has employed them as editors and Kashmir Parcham too has its share of government employees. 

Any ordinary man including the sleuths of Kashmir’s intelligence gathering wing at Kashmir’s Press Enclave can count number of such employees.

Kashmir’s news culture is dominated by ‘government journalism’ owing to the number of civil servants working as journalists.  All the major news outlets have employed an army of permanent government employees, in brazen violation of service rules.

Newspaper owners like to hire government servants as part-time employees because they think it will be useful for them to have someone with access to ‘inside’ information. And government employees who work only part time as civil servants during the day and then work as sub-editors in the evening enjoy receiving two salaries.

Both sides are using each other – news organizations to reach the corridors of power and government employees trying to reach powerful decision-makers on the back of their media status. While some work anonymously, others use their byline quite openly and are happy to praise politicians or ministers in the hope of furthering their careers. 

State-owned Doordarshan and Radio Kashmir are no exception. Last year, Kashmir Reader and the Hoot reported that over 50 employees were moonlighting as part-time newsreaders or news editors with these two broadcasters.

Nowhere else in the world of journalism do you come across such illegal and unethical practices. In fact, the phenomenon is so deeply entrenched in Kashmir that professional journalists who are ‘mere’ journalists are not accepted because, as ‘mere’ journalists, they will not serve the vested interests of news organizations, many of whom follow the line of avoiding criticism of the establishment. 

These moonlighters do not work for insignificant and unknown publications. They work with Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Uzma, and Kashmir Parcham apart from scores of others. They enter their offices in the evening after serving the government for the day (or part of the day). Many among them, in addition to working during the week as sub-editors, religiously write sanitized weekly columns. Yet no action follows.

Last year, Kashmir University Vice chancellor Dr Khurshid Andrabi promised to take action against moonlighting government employees. A year later, nothing. Why?

The reason is that these people effectively function as gate-keepers for the state, in other words, they will not publish any news that goes against their bosses or departments. Only favourable news which paints their superiors in a good light will be published. They are a de facto extension of the state. 

A Facebook post by senior journalist Ahmad Ali Fayyaz explained it well: “A deputy commissioner or HOD gets the publicity of his choice in the media that not only promotes his elevation and posting prospects but also insulates him or her against a negative story or exposure of a scandal.”

Fayyaz continued: “Their subordinate employee-journalists use their influence everywhere from the Vigilance and Crime Branch to radio, television and newspapers to protect the benevolent boss. Most of the times, such double-salaried employees are used to promote an officer, as has surfaced in a recent case involving the D.C. Baramulla who is an IAS officer.” 

This is a reference to Deputy Commissioner Baramulla Yasha Mudgal who was interviewed by a   government employee, Peerzada Aarif, on the subject of absenteeism among civil servants. The irony is that Aarif moonlights with Rising Kashmir and is also guilty of absenteeism as he conducted the interview during day time.

Recently, a senior journalist remarked that Kashmir has no good copy editors and one of the reasons he offered for this was the fact of government employees moonlighting as journalists. These people have filled the desk positions in news organizations, prompting real journalists to leave Kashmir or fend for themselves. “Why would owners hire you? They need stenographers not journalists,” the journalist noted. 

His observation was right. A fresh crop of journalists, around 80 students, graduate from Kashmir University and Central University every year. When they enter the jobs market, these energetic and enthusiastic journalists find scarce opportunities and even if they do get a job, it comes with a meagre salary.

When I asked a fresh graduate why he was sitting at home, he said a news organization had committed itself to paying him a certain amount but paid only half of it because a government employee was willing to work in his place at one third of his salary.

 “A full time, regular, working journalist has to be paid double or three times the salary that these employee-journalists are content with,” he said. And that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

 

Moazum Mohammad is a Srinagar-based journalist working at the Kashmir Reader. Earlier, he worked with the Pioneer. He tweets @moazum_m  

 

 

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