Framing Kashmir as ‘us and them’

BY B P SANJAY| IN Media Practice | 14/01/2018
The man appointed by New Delhi to restore dialogue in Kashmir says he has to contend with the damage done by the mainstream news channels.
B. P. SANJAY on how national TV posits the situation there
Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma

 

The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) interlocutor appointed by New Delhi Dineshwar Sharma recently talked about the vicious propaganda by some TV channels affecting the peace process in the state. His plea for exercising caution in reporting and consequent discussion about Kashmiris is noteworthy.

For the public and intelligentsia, these have been troubled times, especially with regard to the vexatious consumption and reflection of events and incidents in J&K.  Amid the din and shouting that goes on in TV studios, rarely does one get a truly neutral perspective.  

The unfortunate reality is that the framing of the conflict is ‘us and them’. Our common imagery of the state, particularly of the Valley, is that of its natural beauty, the tourism and the cinematic imagery of romance. Superimposed on these are the images of militancy and disturbances.

We need to examine how and why the national media, especially television (with very few exceptions) posit the situation as they do. The events themselves -  stone throwing, the death of our security forces, fidayeen attacks or militant casualties in the operations - are not the problem. The collective discussion nurtures a perception so explicitly skewed that it endorses what the interlocutor was highlighting. 

On this, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has on many occasions expressed concerns. “I am sorry to say that this India that the [news] anchors are trying to project is not what India is and not the India I know.  A few channels are showing Kashmiris in a bad light.”

It is implied that the Centre may want to discuss the volatility of such reporting with the channels. The underlying concern, as to whether it would tread on freedom of the media, remains.

"The collective discussion nurtures a perception so explicitly skewed that it endorses what the interlocutor was highlighting"

 

What about countervailing or relatively more accurate reportage of the situation within the state and by the local media?  In October 2017, the Press Council of India (PCI) during its visit to the state released its sub committee’s report after examining the previous interlocutors’ specific observations on the media.

The interlocutors had remarked on the government’s carrot and stick policy towards advertising support to newspapers, newspapers’ malpractices in inflating circulation figures to garner advertisements, and allegations about suspicious funding for newspapers.

Following a request by the state government, the PCI subcommittee met with all the stakeholders across the regions. The overarching concern expressed by the stakeholders was about the safety of media personnel. It was noted that the media had grown substantially during the troubles. The state-approved list of newspapers and periodicals entitled to advertisements alone is 467. Accredited journalists number 264, of which 135 are in the Valley.

The subcommittee noted several points: the TV channel boom has seen a number of bureaus opening; both the state and centre engaged in arm-twisting of the media; at times there was competitive patronising of the media, depending on who was against whom; and there were two narratives: that of the Kashmiri media and that of the media in the rest of India: On the former, it said, “The journalists working in Kashmir have to manage the reality of walking on the tightrope amidst the threats of the gun and political arm-twisting.”

As to the TV studio panels in the rest of India, are the channels comfortable with vitriolic rabble-rousing? From the report, it is clear that Kashmiris feel concern and anguish about the collateral damage of the reportage and opinionated views circulating in the rest of India.

What corrective steps can be taken is not very clear in the PCI report. The status of the J&K media, coupled with Dineshwar Sharma’s view of the vicious propaganda that is put out, necessitates introspection by the media. Think tank views that are repeatedly castigated deny us an understanding of the complex problems of the state. The framework of centre-state ties, along with foreign policy dilemmas in the region and its variations of geopolitical gameplay, further compound the issue.

Local journalists have an ear to the ground. The national media have substantial time and perhaps the wherewithal to analyse the AV feeds. The nation wants to know the truth about J&K,  however bitter or sweet it may be. 

 

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