May 2017 News
How Kashmiri Boy Who Created 'local Facebook' Became A Victim Of A Biased National Media Report19 May 2017
Srinagar: The mainstream media for past five days has been occupied with the story of Zeyan Shafiq, a 16-year-old boy from Anantnag district, who has developed Valley's first social media website, KashBook. Zeyan's KashBook story was first covered by me on May 13 for TwoCircles.net. The story went viral within the first few hours of publishing and later followed by both print and online news websites. The 16-year-old boy is a software enthusiast and son of a businessman father and government servant mother. He started working on developing Valley's own social networking website a day after social media ban imposed by the state government on April 26, and launched it within a week on May 2. Explaining the reason behind starting the website, Zeyan told me, 'The government has blocked access to all the social networks and they are blocking VPNs too. So, when they'll block the whole access to social media, how will people from the Valley stay connected with each other? KashBook is the answer to social media gag.' Almost every media house reported it as a positive story and appreciated the young boy for developing the website. Some reports even termed it as a push towards 'Make in India' and 'Digital India'. But a prominent news channel, as the practice goes of seeing Kashmir only through the prism of suspicion and conflict, 'twisted' and portrayed KashBook as a security threat to India and forces serving in the Valley. The channel though didn't present any facts to back its serious claims. On May 18, Hindi news channel, News Nation aired a story about KashBook and presented it in a whole different context. The news channel, instead of appreciating the young boy, tried to paint KashBook as a threat to security forces. It also made a hypothetical claim that the website is being used by stone-pelters. It is important to mention here that, after the social media ban, Kashmiris have turned to virtual private network (VPN) in order to defy the ban and access different social media websites, which were banned by the state government. Most of the banned websites are still accessible through VPNs. Top politicians and bureaucrats too have been updating their pages on social media. What's more, even chief minister Mehbooba Mufti's verified page on Facebook shows updates about latest developmental work. The News Nation, in its report, claims to investigate, if the KashBook app-website is being used to mobilise stone-pelters and if there has been any surge in attacks on security forces in the Valley after the launch of the website. Ironically, the report itself mentions that the app has been downloaded by only 1,000 people, then how come 1000 users among 6.9 million population of Valley spread over 6,158 square miles become a source of stone-pelters' mobilisation and lead to surge in attacks on security forces. The news channel termed the website as a serious threat to country's security and claimed it could be used by 'terrorists'. Making another sensational claim, the channel further reported that the government and cyber experts are working on ways to block access to the website. The report has sent shivers down Zeyan's family members who till now were celebrating his achievement. The family has termed all allegations and claims by the channel as false and frivolous. 'If my son has developed something, they should have appreciated it instead of discouraging him. I don't know why they are painting it in a bad light. We were very positive about him until now, but after this report we are thinking if we should let Zeyan continue with this website or not,' said Zeyan's mother, Asiya Shafiq, who works as a public servant in tehsildar office. She was shocked to hear the terms used by the channel to present the story. 'The channel has made use of terms like security threats, terrorists and stone-pelters. How can they relate these terms with a website launched by a 16-year-old boy? He only wants his people to stay connected in the times of social media bans.' She further said they don't want any 'medal' or 'prize' from the government. 'Zeyan is tense and discouraged after the News Nation report. We just wanted support for this young boy who, if encouraged, could make many more software innovations.' As the Valley has erupted into protests once again, and the subsequent cropping up of alienation factor, the answer somehow lies in Asiya's words. The mainstream media has to play a constructive role when it comes to covering Kashmir and its people. Every act of Kashmiris shouldn't be seen from the prism of suspicion as there are millions of Kashmiris who yearn for peace, anticipate normalcy and seek development. The News Nation report has not only discouraged Zeyan, but many others like him in Kashmir, who will now think a thousand times before developing any website or software. Media's obsession with presenting Kashmir only as a conflict zone and manipulating facts is affecting its own cause. This could lead to increased alienation among the local populace and dreams of mainstreaming Kashmir will stay limited to political speeches only.