Mobiles, new media and citizen journalism in Kashmir

Kashmir BBC

Photo credit: BBC World Service

Kashmir has, according to a new BBC World Service documentary, the highest rate of mobile phone usage per capita in India although services were only introduced in 2003. As the BBC reporter points out, without mobile phone services there would be no cyber resistance. And there’s the irony, for it is this largely mobile phone based cyber resistance that is today documenting human rights abuses in the region, and serving to bolster international attention on a region that is tremendously difficult and dangerous for traditional news media to cover in a sustained manner.

When I first wrote about citizen journalism in Kashmir I noted,

Of the hundreds of videos on YouTube, I am positive that one won’t get any context, a sense of history or impartiality. That’s still the realm of professional journalism and the more committed citizen journalist. What one does get are snapshots of a polity and society mired in conflict, where ordinary people, with no training whatsoever in journalism, are capturing vital moments, people, events, places and processes that define their lives and in doing so, are collectively producing an oral and visual history.

This BBC World documentary is an excellent production, that speaks with youth recording the violence in their daily lives through mobiles, and putting it up on YouTube for posterity. It asks hard questions, and with revealing answers. For example, it is confirmed that security agencies monitor mobile phone conversations and IP addresses, even though no arrests have been made to date over the nature of the content posted online by cyber activists. The resulting fear psychosis is clearly brought out, and yet the responses by some of the cyber activists as to why they do what they do, at great risk to personal safety and security, are also hugely inspiring.

It is remarkable that the mother of the slain mobile phone salesman Shaheed Tanveer, who sees the video of her son’s killing for the first time in the presence of the BBC journalist, comes out strongly in favour of keeping the video online as a record of what happened. It is the same sentiment that Neda Agha-Soltan’s mother expressed earlier this year when she said, “I don’t want people to forget her.”

The BBC World Service podcast can be downloaded as a MP3 here and related photos can be seen here. New media in Kashmir documents just one example, Iran this year being the other outstanding one, of how mobile phones and sites like YouTube – first created without any intention of helping human rights and democracy – are today platforms and devices for ordinary (and often even illiterate) citizens to record their lives. It is arguable whether this is professional journalism as we know it through even the BBC itself. It is irrefutable however that this new content is changing our perspectives on this beautiful yet violent region.

And that’s a good thing.

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