Media at its jingoistic worst

IN Media Practice | 04/05/2013
TV channels jingoistically raised the pitch against Pakistan after Sarabjit Singh's death.
UGEN BHUTIA says media should instead have appreciated the government’s pro-dialogue stance and advocated peace.

There are numerous instances where so-called national media in India has taken on itself the responsibility to create nationalist feeling among its citizens. One could commend media for this initiative, particularly because the notion of ‘unity in diversity’ should be reinforced time and again in India to maintain peace among communities.  But the problem is that it usually turns into jingoism and tends to create a fake enemy. The reporting of Sarabjit Singh’s death after being tortured by his jail inmates was a recent example.

After Sarabjit’s death, television channels went back to their old jingoistic mindset where the only visible enemy is Pakistan. Indeed, the torture followed by death of Sarabjit Singh was Pakistan’s  failure in providing security to Indian prisoners. But does that ethically and constitutionally allow Indian news channels to advocate for extreme reactions from India?

In democracy, the fundamental role of media is to sustain and build peace among its citizens and with its neighbours. But what our self-proclaimed national media does is, criticise the peaceful means of conflicts resolution adopted by the government. Rather than discussing and debating on the real issue, debate programmes in these channels are merely instigating the escalation of conflict with our neighbouring countries. For instance, in a recent case, our one and only Arnab Goswami in his programme The News Hour on Times Now, started the programme on May 2 with a question: “Those who consistently take, surprisingly, even when it defeats logic, a pro-Pakistan position on issues almost as if they have a vested interest in continuing a dialogue that is reaching nowhere, what has these pro-Pakistan lobby ever achieved?” More surprising was the choice of the person to whom the question was addressed. It was a retired Lt General whom he thought was the best person to raise such question. And as expected (or as  directed), he replied “I don’t understand why they do it; I don’t see any signs of anything positive emerging out of it....blah, blah and blah”.

If a common man had been asked the same question, the answer would have been that the pro-dialogue or (according to him) a pro-Pakistan approach has achieved the absence of another Kargil War in South Asia, avoidance in usage of large-scale citizens-state resources for military purposes, saving of lives of tens of thousands of soldiers so on and so forth.

Whenever there is any terrorist attacks in India, our jingoistic media raises its finger towards Pakistan but what our media fails to do is to ask our own leaders why the State has failed to provide security to its people from those terrorist attacks? Why do our border forces fail  to prevent terrorists from crossing the border?

More significantly, in the present case, media tended to suppress the fact that the accused were taking revenge for Afzal Guru’s execution in India, by not stressing on it, which is also the most significant point of the case. News anchors remained mute when it came to analysing our own deeds. They did not bring out the point that the sudden execution of someone, even if he is an (Indian) terrorist in India, may instigate hatred for Indians outside India.

Those people who are now talking about the lack of security for Sarabjit Singh and other Indian prisoners in Pakistan are the same people who previously criticised the security for Ajmal Kasab and the money being spent on it. Criticism of the security of foreign prisoners in India and advocating for security for Indian prisoners outside India: is this an appropriate attitude of the opinion-leaders of a democratic country? And should media of a democratic country proliferate and legitimise such attitudes? What stand will our TV channels now take on the attack on the Pakistani prisoner inside an Indian jail yesterday?

Indeed, the attack on Sarabjit Singh was inhuman and definitely Pakistan should be pressurised to hold an independent investigation on it. However, pressurising through the means of dialogue seems to be more appropriate than without any dialogue. And media should spur the peaceful means of conflict resolution and should take responsibility for sustaining peace with our neighbouring countries. A campaign for peace initiated by Times of India and Jung group of Pakistan known as ‘Aman Ki Asha (an Indo-Pak peace project)’ is an effective and striking strive for such cause. But contrary comments and reporting in news channel Times Now from the same group may result in undesired consequences.  

Therefore, this year, an appropriate Press Freedom Day resolution for Indian media would be not only to be brave enough to freely criticise anyone and everyone but to introspect and improve on its own drawbacks.   

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