The Chandigarh based leading newspaper, Tribune recently made an entry into the media market in Jammu and Kashmir by launching its “Jammu Tribune” supplement. During the launching ceremony, the Governor N NVohra hoped that it would also reach to Srinagar with a similar mission.
Dedicating a few pages to the affairs of the state by the regional and national newspapers is not new but the way Tribune has started presenting it, is something significant. With the unprecedented revolution in Information Technology in last over one decade, conflicting trends have emerged in the media scene. In contrast to shrinking space for newspapers in United States and other western countries, more newspapers have started appearing on the news stalls in India. Notwithstanding fast advancements in dissemination of news through social media viz Facebook and Twitter, only 3 percent population in India has direct access to the internet. That is why Hindi press in India is getting stronger and there is hardly any decline in the readership of English newspapers through the hard copies.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the scene is no different. From not more than 30 registered newspapers in 1989, the number has already crossed 800. It is afact that only a handful of newspapers in English and Urdu have a stable readership but the trend of becoming “Editors” has not shown any sign of discouragement.
While the problems of local newspapers (except a few) have not ended, the national newspapers have started looking towards closer connection with the readers in Jammu and Kashmir. Launch of “Tribune Jammu” is part of that experiment. One cannot jump to the judgment about the failure or success of Tribune in eating up the space of other leading English newspapers in Jammu but it certainly would depend upon how the newspaper would deal with the local issues. Jammu is already tasting the local editions of Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran, two leading Hindi newspapers of mainland India. After expanding their bureaus, both launched full fledged editions from the city thus making a huge dent into the circulation base of once the “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 newspapers have made a difference in the market.
The English newspapers such as Hindustan Times, Times of India and Indian Express had started devoting few pages to the state much earlier. Indian Express had gone ahead by having tie up with a local newspaper. However, the experiment failed to the extent that the circulation with which these newspapers had command in the market went down to a considerable level. Since readers had developed a taste to read a national newspaper for what was happening in rest of India as also how the national media would cover the happenings in the state, they started losing the interest. This was precisely the reason The Indian Express reverted back to catering the market with Delhi edition. Even as Jammu does not have much problems with the political discourse the national media would set in, this surely would not strike a chord in politically volatile Kashmir.
The only experiment done in Kashmir so far is of QuamiAwaz, the Urdu newspaper which happened to be the mouth piece of Congress. With its good quality news presentation and lay out it was launched in 1989. It carved a space and to an extent pushed aside Aftab and Srinagar Times – the two leading Urdu dailies of that time. However, it failed the test when armed rebellion broke out in same year and could not synchronise its editorial policy with the political aspirations of the people. The result was that it was closed down only after 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 pre-freedom era of United India, the newspapers such as Times of India, The Statesman and Independent were ahead in technology and presentation, but they failed to make a constituency among the public for being closer to the British rule.
In that vacuum the lesser quality papers like Harijan and Hindustan Times could reach to the people in a better way as they represented their wishes. So 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 newspapers that comes from outside but to identify its stand on political issues is the real test. Even the local newspapers face ire on account of what many people think “they are going against the dominant sentiment”.
Entry of national newspapers in Valley is not a major threat to local journalism. The way the local media would cover the happenings in Kashmir, it is not expected that a national newspaper could devote that much of space. Besides highlighting the government activities there is not much scope for the issues thrown up as a consequence of the conflict. But their arrival in the market would definitely help them reach to their existing readers early in the morning. By any stretch of imagination the local advertisement market cannot shift to higher rate structure of national newspapers so easily. It will, however, open space for more young journalists to get better salaries, which in any case is good for the growth of the institution.
Shujaat Bukhari is editor of the Daily Rising Kashmir