Since July 2016 there has been an intense crisis in the Kashmir Valley in India-administered Kashmir, following the killing of militant Burhan Wani, Hizbul Mujahideen commander. Over 100 people have been killed and thousands injured as protests have swept the Valley. Curfew is still being imposed in many regions. However, a forum involving journalists from both sides of Kashmir is working to ensure that reporting from either side is not exacerbating the situation.
The forum is the first such initiative to bring a delegation of mainly young journalists from India-administered Kashmir to Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Following this visit, which was organised by the Kashmir Initiative Group, the journalists set up a joint online platform where they are now regularly in contact – fact-checking and sharing information on what is happening on either side of the Line of Control (LoC). Ershad Mahmud, from Pakistan-administered Kashmir was part of the group hosting the delegates from the Indian side:
Since the visit, journalistic practices have changed. Before this it was ‘blind journalism’. Very few people had direct contact with counterparts on the other side, so there was a lot of misreporting of information with exaggerated articles that weren’t factually correct. If a journalist from the Indian-side wants to know more about Azad Jammu and Kashmir, they now ask us to tell them. There are now also more articles in the media with a peacebuilding angle.
Shujaat Bukhari, Editor in Chief of Rising Kashmir, who was part of the delegation from Indian-administered Kashmir, believes the initiative has fostered a deeper understanding and awareness between the two groups:
It has created a space for understanding the issues across the LoC. Previously, they were only hearing stories – mostly stereotypes from both sides. But they now exchange views with each other virtually. During the 65 years of separation of these regions, only stereotypes have worked and have been used by those with vested interests to keep the conflict boiling. This kind of connection between the two sides breaks the walls of myth and contributes positively to peacebuilding.
Ershad agrees and believes the friendships that have developed due to the creation of the forum have helped strengthen their reporting:
It is very important in a volatile situation that people consult each other. Both sides of Kashmir are trying hard to put forward their state narratives, meaning facts and truth become the first casualty. Naturally people then get the wrong information and so incorrect perceptions are created. With such collaboration between journalists, we can correct each other. Above all, our social relationships with each other, will not allow us to become a part of the tool of state propaganda against each other. When you work together and know someone, you can't write something bad against them.
The journalists involved in the forum are determined to find ways to create more opportunities for on-going collaboration and exchange. They hope this collaboration will continue to reduce the misperceptions and misunderstandings which fuel tensions in their region.