Killing news: the corporate ruled newsrooms in Kashmir

Source :  Kashmir Dispatch

Five killed, two injured, three killed, five injured, sometime militants, sometime forces and sometime civilians fill up the numbers. The numbers of death continue to toll up in this Himalayan region. And, this is what you read or even hear about Kashmir from the journalists from the region.

However, in the region where corporate media houses are nascent, the indictment of a milk major in a food adulteration scam and its coverage in the newspapers clearly shows that news has become a bigger “casualty” these days. Newsrooms are abuzz with the local disgraced firm– Khyber Agro Farms Ltd– found of “poisoning” Kashmir with its adulterated milk.

Relevant tests have found harmful substances like detergents in the milk that over the past decade had become a popular choice for the masses. But the local media chose to shove the pressing public issue under the rugs. And, understandably so in this age of digital information overload, an outraged people have resorted to social networking sites to express their anger.

While some newspapers had earlier launched a scathing attack on the government for failing to provide safe and hygienic food, without mentioning any company, to the people, the court judgment against a big corporate house for selling contaminated milk didn’t make it to the newspapers. Interestingly, many other newspapers have come out to boost about their special supplements about vital public issues, including health.

Importantly, a local court has convicted Khyber Agro Farms for selling substandard, unsafe and misbranded food to the customers across Jammu and Kashmir. Chief Judicial Magistrate in Central Kashmir’s Budgam imposed a fine of 900 hundred thousand Indian rupees ($USD 13637) on the fallen firm and six-month imprisonment to the accused company through its nominated officer.

The directions were passed after sample of toned milk (Khyber brand) collected by Food Safety Officer, Zeenat Ayoub, turned out to be substandard after analysis. However, ironically while this was the news for some handful of outside-Kashmir-based newspapers including,

The Indian Express, The Tribune among others, the local media, especially some prominent local newspapers including, Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Reader completely ignored the news.

It wasn’t a story for them. Read About Tulips You could read about how many tulips are in bloom at Asia’s largest Tulip Garden in Srinagar, you could also read about the number of tourists flocking to Kashmir, you could also read about some or many trivial issues in the mainstream media in the region, but not about a company which was found poisoning Kashmir people by supplying highly contaminated dairy products.

The stories of public importance, including this, were ignored, stalled and killed. “What if local newspapers didn’t carry stories of adulteration in Khyber Milk because Khyber’s advertisements are important for them than lives of common people,” said senior national award-wining photojournalist of China based Xinua, Javed Dar. “We as responsible citizens and we should launch a campaign against Khyber on social networking sites so that they get exposed and common people get awareness about their packaged poison,” he said. Dar immediately took to social networking site, Facebook, sharing his views about Khyber and its malpractices with a hash-tag‪#‎ImPoisonImKhyber. The other citizens, following the trend, shared their views on the development and also lashed out at the local media for the compete blackout of the public importance news stories.

“Detergents are added to milk to increase the shelf life and it is a common practice with all milk plants. So why to single out Khyber? Spurious drugs, substandard food items, etc. manufactured/imported to kill people slowly and silently particularly in Kashmir is the outcome of materialistic race devoid of human values,” a citizen said. “No difference between Sadam Hussain and Khyber Tramboos.

The former killed Kurds by poisoning them with harmful gases, and the latter are doing same with Kashmir people,” Javaid Trali, who works in ruling People Democratic Party’s media cell, said. “With due respect, most of the newspaper owners and editors, in Kashmir, are businessmen. No matter, we have extremely brilliant and honest reporters here. But, they are helpless.

They can’t help. Businessmen have their own interests to settle. Let Kashmiris die,” he said. He also took on Facebook, to express his anger,‪ #‎KhyberWarOnKashmiris. Chief Judicial Magistrate, Budgam, Mr Imtiyaz Ahmad Lone directed the Commissioner Food and Safety Act to take immediate steps in ensuring that the company (Khyber Agro) products are closed or taken off from the market unless Referral Laboratory Kolkata declares that the product of the convicted company are safe to consume and products manufactured by the convicted company do not harm the nation as is proved by the medical report submitted by the SK Institute of Medical Sciences in region’s summer capital.

The Magistrate said it is the reason that ratio of cancer patients is increasing in valley and reasons for such diseases as disclosed by various newspapers as well as the medical research conducted by consuming adulterated food. The analysis conducted by a Referral Food Laboratory in Kolkata confirms the samples as substandard. The analysis report shows presence of detergent in the milk and also shows the milk fat lower than the prescribed limit.

According to the report, it also contravenes Food Safety and standards (packaging and labelling) Regulations for not mentioning best before date and symbol of veg. Food on the label. The report submitted shows that the sample is sub-standard and mis-branded under rules.

The court held the company guilty and convicted through its in-charge operations nominated person Mohammad Shafi Ganie and was convicted under sections 51, 52 and 59 of FSS Act -2006 943 of 2006). Under this act fine of rupees 5 lac was imposed for selling sub-standard food, Rs 3 lac for mis-branded item and Rs 1 lakh for selling unsafe food besides six months of imprisonment to the accused company through nominated person. The magistrate in Budgam said this was not the first case where it has come to the surface that the milk product manufactured by the accused company contains detergent urea and other dangerous chemicals not only in milk but other edible products.

“I feel pained to describe how our society has been subjected to a silent injury by permitting convicted company to earn profits at the cost of lives of the nation. Only God knows how many people might have died by consuming detergents in the Khyber toned milk,” Justice Imtiaz Ahmad Lone said in a court judgement.

After local newspapers boycotted the news of the tainted company, there was an outcry on social networking sites like, Facebook, Twitter, Integram, among others. The bloggers came out heavily criticizing the company and the role of newspapers editors in blocking the news to the readers. “Khyber pays a good amount of money to local newspapers. Why would they (newspapers, with some exceptions) publish the news story…And my teachers were teaching me about ethics in journalism yesterday,” said a journalism teacher, Ishfaq Ahmad Shah. “It’s time to nail them,” Farhad Naik updated on Facebook.

“This is not the first time that Khyber Milk has been found adulterated with dangerous chemicals including detergents and urea.

But given that the product is manufactured and marketed by a very rich and influential business house – so far the government and its concerned agencies have done precious little to tame the beast. Instead the rules and laws have always been subverted to help the culprits,” he said. He shared the editorial of his newspaper, Kashmir Images, on its second day, which said

“In this dirty game of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” which has been going on unabated between the Khyber people and senior government functionaries here, it is the life and health of the ordinary people which had been dangerously compromised and put in sure harm’s way.”

“Basically there can’t be worse indictment of the official complicity and patronage as far as food adulteration is concerned. Now that the judge has belled the cat, it is time for the government to do its bit. Just because someone is rich and powerful does not mean that he/she/they could play with the lives of the ordinary people and get away with it. Nor does it mean much to grow long beards to feign piety when in reality our actions are evil, mischievous and anti-people!”

The newspaper industry, which is witnessing a downfall elsewhere, is flourishing in Jammu and Kashmir with more and more youngsters coming forward with their new registered titles (newspapers). According to J&K Department of Information, around over 200 newspapers in different languages hit the stands every morning in Srinagar, while as the winter capital, Jammu too has over 200 newspapers coming out daily.

This is in addition to hundreds of 200 weekly newspapers and some one hundred fortnightly and monthly publications. A worker fills milk into a processing machine in a milk plant in Kashmir. “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,” Arthur Miller said in 1961. Undoubtedly, Kashmir has produced journalists o repute, who have proved their mettle on the international arena.

While being at their best, newspapers have been holding governments to account. They usually set the news agenda for the rest of the media. But keeping a lid on a vital public importance issues, including food adulteration by this company has raised serious concerns on the ethics of journalism in Kashmir.

Authint Mail, a New Delhi based online portal, broke the story in 2013 about milk contamination by Khyber. During that period also, the local media, especially newspapers didn’t carry any news story on the issue. Ironically days after the news broke out, the whistle blower Srinagar Municipal Corporation Health Officer, Dr Shafqat Khan was shunted out from his post and transferred to south Kashmir.

The civic body officer was one of the main officials who had given details about the food adulteration to the media. The government said that it is mulling to close or take off the products of Khyber Agro Farms Company from the market till the Referral Laboratory in Kolkata declares the product (milk) of the company safe for consumption. Secretary Health and Medical Education Dr M.K. Bhandari said that that they have been examining the court judgment and the directions of the court will be implemented in letter and spirit.

“Within a day or two we will initiate action against the accused company. Either we will close the company or its product will be taken off from the market. A decision in this regard will be taken within a day or two,” Bhandari said. He added that government is bound to follow the directions of the court.