Kashmir: unrest gives push to digitisation

Posted: January 12, 2017 in Arrest, Conflict and Peace, Draconian Laws, Human Rights, Right to Dissent, State Violence
Faced with shrinking revenues, newspapers are going digital and journalists are striking out on their own with digital media start ups
IRFAN QURAISHI reports

 

SRINAGAR: Struggling to survive in the conflict-ridden Kashmir Valley due to financial crises, the legacy media is rapidly stepping into the world of digitisation. Not only are media organisations going digital but journalists who are in the middle of their career and fear job losses are turning to digital media entrepreneurship.

While media organisations see the new age media (digital) as the only option to cut the cost of their news operations and earn money through alternative means, journalists see digital entrepreneurship as the only avenue for creating employment for themselves and others.

Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs. Kashmir Observer, an English daily facing an acute financial crisis, has decided to go digital. Editor Sajad Hyder said the revenue from the market, especially because of the present unrest, is virtually zero. They are diverting their resources for digitisation to generate badly needed revenue from the online virtual market.

 

“Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs.”

 

The newspapers find it hard to pay the salaries of their staff given the turbulent situation in the Valley – first in 2008, then in 2010 and now.  It is obvious that when there is no business in the market, there is nothing that needs publicising with business owners or with the government.

“By going digital, the cost of the print run is reduced. This is being done to use the untapped market, both nationally and internationally, that craves visual media from Kashmir,” said Hyder.

The leading English daily, Greater Kashmir, published by GK Communications, posted on its just-created YouTube channel that, “GK Communications Pvt. Ltd. is pleased to announce GKTV, the Audio Visual Digital Platform that will cater to our fast growing new digital audience.”

Another daily, Rising Kashmir, has also started its multimedia segment, followed by Kashmir Monitor, but they are yet to decide on the complete digitisation of their news operations. However, like many others, they have cut down heavily on their print runs.

Amid this transition, journalists are turning into new age media entrepreneurs, adding momentum to changes that are reshaping an industry known for dismal levels of professionalism, monopolies, and financial crunches. Young journalists are looking for innovative developments in journalism amid the technology boom to secure their future.

Take Tariq Bhat, a local journalist with a degree in mass communications. Bhat has worked with many news organisations such as Munsif TV, 5 Darya News, and 9TV. He says that losing jobs and looking for others actually created the energy in him to think of his own start up.

In 2014, Bhat started the state’s first online, multi-lingual radio app – City FM JK – with meagre resources and just  six colleagues, to transmit folk programmes, entertainment, music, news and information.

The radio app, which is available on the Google Play store, has become very popular among internet users. With the catch-line Panun Radio, Panun Style (Our Radio, Our style), the mobile radio has won Bhat accolades and the spotlight in the national and international media. So far, it has been downloaded over 79,000 times.

“Journalists in Kashmir suffer economically. The industry is drying up. The new generation has to turn to entrepreneurship rather than searching for a job. I took a Rs five  lakh loan from  J&K Bank and 15 lakh from a private financer to start this project,” said Bhat.

 

“This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town.”

 

Initially, people laughed at his idea of online radio. “Now I have over one lakh daily listeners including international listeners and the diaspora. I am an employer now,” he adds.

This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town. The BBC, Zee News, NDTV and Times Now portrayed Bhat as an inspirational Kashmiri youth.

ANN is currently being manned by a small team of eight persons but has already made a name for itself with its multi-lingual programmes and songs, news, current affairs and entertainment. “There is no support from the government for innovative start-ups. Even their advertisement policy isn’t helpful in any way to the new age media start-ups. If it had been, the industry would have witnessed many more start-ups”, said Bhat.

On revenue possibilities, he pointed out that he has a small team on nominal salaries. ‘The thing is we don’t have daily huge expenses in digital news, like we have in print. It is a one-time investment. Whatever we earn from online advertisement or sponsorships is at least managing us. You don’t have to live up with fears of crises and expenditures. Instead, we have attracting more and more international market and people to expect some share in global market. Be it advertisement, app hitting or donations.”

The list does not end here. Irfan Ahmad, a mass communication post-graduate who has reported for national and local media organisations for seven years, is working on his ‘digital media and news podcast’ start-up titled Kashmir Patriot and KP TV.

Pradeep Kumar, the Delhi-based programming head of Kashmir Patriot says that the idea developed when Ahmad was looking for a job after the channel he worked for shut down. “Though he had this idea earlier, he was quite hesitant in turning to entrepreneurship, that too in the uncertain Valley. Fortunately he got an international fellowship on the same subject in Europe and on return he decided to give it a try,” Kumar said.

The start-up is seeking finance from the J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute as the first of its kind digital news platform in the state, according to Kumar. “We will be introducing new tools of mobile journalism. The start-up will be formally launched soon.  The test run is already on. Besides news, views, it would be featuring debates, chats and live feeds,” he said.

For revenue Kashmir Patriot will be focusing on income from YouTube channel by featuring stories for international audiences. ‘The revenue from Google ad sense and website hits may be insufficient initially, but after some time we are hoping with the growing followers and subscribers on social networking, it may rise.  After all, there is no print cost involved in it, which is the most difficult thing to manage in the local market,” said Kumar.

Whatever the platform gets as revenue from the local market and the government will be in addition. “You get something from everywhere on a global platform. Sustaining with a daily newspaper publication or journals in crises-hit market is difficult, but a widening reach on the global market may fetch some more sums,” he said.

Umar Nisar, another journalist with sound information technology skills, developed his own FM station, Pannun FM International, in 2015. He believes the crisis in Kashmir stymies the talent. “No support, besides meagre revenue resources, kills the media industry,’said Nisar. He is currently working on upgrading his FM radio to a Digital Media & Broadcasting Network.

A group of three other journalists, Sameer Showkin, Mir Farhat, and Zahid Maqbool, recently founded a news portal, News Despatch, a family-run news organisation. Showkin’s first sentence in his bio, uploaded on his portal, speaks volumes about what he went through before launching the portal. “Thanks to all those who said ‘no’ to me, it is because of them I did it myself”.

Braving the odds, these start-ups and trendsetters deserve applause. The making of a new media industry in the Kashmir Valley amid all the troubles is something to celebrate.

 

Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He has previously worked for Day & Night News and Kashmir Times. He tweets @ irfanquraishi85.

http://www.thehoot.org/media-watch/digital-media/kashmir-unrest-gives-push-to-digitisation-9862

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