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Kashmiri Photojournalist Chosen for Mackler Courageous and Ethical Journalism Award

  • By Newmark J-School Staff
Masrat Zahra

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who reports on conflict in her home region of Jammu and Kashmir with a specific focus on women’s issues, has won the 2020 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.

Zahra, 26, will be honored in a virtual ceremony organized by the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY on Sept. 24, 2020. The event will include a panel discussion moderated by Farwa Aamer, director of South Asia Program at the EastWest Institute in New York.

“I am feeling overwhelmed,” said Zahra upon learning of the award over WhatsApp from Srinagar, Kashmir. “This year was very tough for me.”

In April, Zahra reported on clashes between militants and the Indian army in Kachdoora, Jammu, and Kashmir. When she shared an image of herself captioned “Gun vs. Camera,” the picture went viral and brought an onslaught of misogynistic hate speech.

She was later charged under India’s stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for “glorify[ing] anti-national activities,” for which she may face up to seven years in prison. Authorities also brought a complaint against her for inciting “an offense against the state” by publishing photos that “dent the image of law enforcement.”

Press freedom organizations have expressed outrage at the charges against Zahra. Several Kashmiri journalists have spoken of her professionalism and impartiality. RSF Asia-Pacific, as well as journalist groups in Jammu and Kashmir, have demanded that the charges be dropped.

Zahra believes she has been targeted as a “mukhbir,” or government informer, because she’s a rare female photojournalist who uses her camera to document the plight of women in her part of the world.  “I feel that as a female journalist, I have a privilege” to tell the stories that have been ignored of Kashmiri women caught up in a conflict zone, she said. “You have to speak on their behalf.”

In addition to posting regularly on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, Zahra’s work has appeared in The Washington Post and Al Jazeera, among other prominent news sources. She studied journalism at the central University of Kashmir and the AKS School of Documentary Photography.

“Masrat’s complete dedication to reporting the story, no matter the risks, guided our choice,” said Catherine Antoine, president of the Global Media Forum Training Group and founder of the award created to honor the work and values of her late husband.

Named for the distinguished international journalist who worked for Agence France-Presse at the time of his death in June 2008, the Mackler award recognizes reporters from countries where independent media are under threat.

“We are honored at the Newmark J-School to host this award, which aligns so well with the values of the school ,” said Dean Sarah Bartlett.

Now in its 12th year, the award has celebrated journalists from Italy, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, Russia, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, Burundi, and Mexico. The award is a project of the Global Media Forum Training Group. In addition to the Newmark J-School, partners include Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Agence France-Presse (AFP).

For more information about the Peter Mackler Award, contact the Global Media Forum Training Group.