June 27, 2018
Tribute to Syed Shujaat Bhukaria, journalist killed in his line of work
COMMENT | A journalist friend, Syed Shujaat Bhukari, who is also the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, was killed on June 14 by unidentified gunmen outside his office in Srinagar.
I first met Shujaat in 2008 at the Asian Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He was then enrolled in a distance-learning subject, International Reporting, in the Master of Journalism programme, which I taught for a semester.
The subject involved weekly online discussions on the challenges that journalists faced in reporting on politically volatile issues.
Shujaat had survived three assassination attempts for his work. He had written about the constant “battle between pens and guns” in Kashmir in a guest editorial for the Paynesville Press in Minnesota.
“It is difficult to exist with recurrent, harassment, and intimidation,” he said. “But amid the daily grind of violence, life goes on (but) with a difference. It is stressful and sleep is difficult. Who knows about tomorrow?”
Replying to one of Shujaat’s queries on managing the risks of reporting in conflict zones in one of the subject’s weekly online forum in March 2008, I wrote:
“Dear Shujaat: I can only imagine reporting in conflict-ridden countries, and the risks you face daily. I believe journalists are as good as where their conscience leads them, and the risks they are able to take to tell their stories and uphold what’s right, fair and just. In reality, a journalist is also a husband, a wife, a parent, a son, a daughter. With the constant threats and risks of investigative journalism – as in the Philippines, Pakistan, Kashmir – you might ask whether the story is worth risking your life.
“I suppose when journalists have invested time, conviction and emotion into researching the story, bullets and death threats would only strengthen their resolve to push on. This professional disposition can only be acquired from field experience.”
Part of the solution
As a tribute to his journalism, here’s an extract from one of his assigned essays on how journalists could do better in reporting on development issues. Shujaat wrote, in part, on March 11, 2008:
“Commercialisation in the media has diminished the role of journalists in covering the issues that matter to the public… autonomy to a journalist in the newsroom is still elusive. The newsrooms are more or less governed or regulated by the interests of the owners.
“Journalists cannot shirk their responsibility towards the profession. Going beyond the routine material for news, which is generally dished out by government sources, journalists have a responsibility to look at the bigger picture and its ramifications on the people.”
Shujaat’s journalism of “reason and dialogue” underlines the risks that investigative journalists in the region take in their stride. Massoud Ansari, a Newsline correspondent in Pakistan, in an interview for my book on ‘Best Practices of Journalism in Asia’, said:
“Whatever benefits journalists enjoy in Pakistan is because of the struggle they had put in over the years. The government is trying its best to gag the media, but… technological development has made it very difficult to control the flow of information.
“Those who work and live in Pakistan do have to live under a lot of pressure. As a journalist, you are a critic of society. And when you criticise, either society or any organisation, or for that matter any individual, you tend to create enemies. The challenge is to stick to your commitment, and keep doing the work that you think will ultimately benefit society in the long run.”
The risks that bold journalists in Kashmir and Pakistan take in their investigative work remind me of the journalist’s moral duty to do the right thing and tenaciously investigate into matters of public interest, to expose social injustices, to unravel the truths behind the cover-ups of poor governance, systemic corruption and falsehoods peddled on social media.
In the Malaysian environment, our journalists should persevere in spite of pressures from special interest groups and politically affiliated editors.
Conscientious journalists should be part of the solution to racial politics in the country, failing which, in spite of a new Pakatan Harapan government, the communal divide wrought by decades of BN rule will just get wider and wider.
ERIC LOO is Senior Fellow (Journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.