Media monitoring: Discovering Pakistan

BY shubha singh| IN Books | 20/08/2004
Unprecedented journalistic access during the March-April period of cricket diplomacy produced a rush of goodwill stories on Pakistan in Indian newspapers.

The first of a series in the Hoot on how newspapers in India and Pakistan report on each other¿s countries--- A Panos-Hoot monitoring project.

Shubha Singh

It was still early days in the cricket fiesta and the Indian news agency, Press Trust of India`s report in The Hindu described the cricket fans as invaders. In a report headlined, ¿Pakistan greets Indian "invaders" with warmth¿, it wrote: "For once the invaders are welcomed. Wherever they go they are welcomed by the Pakistanis with a warmth that does not betray even a trace of the bitter, and mostly hostile, ties that have bedevilled the neighbouring countries. For once the invaded and the invaders are on the same side. They want to watch great cricket and promote friendship."

The Times of India correspondent, S Dinkar`s report filed from Rawalpindi on March 18, 2004 carried a headline: Fans are the biggest winner. Dinkar wrote that goodwill and friendship was the general theme and "aap hamare mehman hain" (you are our guests) was the common refrain. "The most heartening aspect of the two matches so far has been the spontaneity with which the performance of the Indian team has been appreciated in Pakistan. If at all there are barriers of any kind between the people of the two nations, they are crumbling rapidly," according to Dinkar.

Another story by the Times News Network quoted two Indian fans, Honey Chand and Chintan Jain who admitted that before reaching Pakistan, they had a nagging suspicion about the reception they would get across the border. But they were pleasantly surprised, "there was a standing ovation from more than 10,000 people as the Indian spectators entered the auditorium. There were no negative feelings or bitterness even when India won. Fans bartered Pan Parag for Pakistani rotis during lunch hour," they said.

Cricket fans who returned home after the first one-day match had refreshing tales to tell of their experiences in Karachi. Vinod Nair in Delhi Times quoted Dinesh Sharma: "It was unbelievable, we were overwhelmed by the hospitality. The restaurant manager told us that the food was on the house, you are from India and our guests." Sharme had gone into a pharmacy and the chemist said to him: dushmani to politicians ke beech hai. Hamare liye aap ek khas dost hain. (The hostility is among the politicians. For us, you are a special friend.) Sharma said that he had realised that "all this animosity and hatred is created by a bunch of people for political and personal gains."

However, it was still early days in the great cricket fiesta and there were still some doubt whether the goodwill would continue. In the Times of India, Manoj Joshi wondered whether the Indo-Pak cricket fest would last? Joshi asked, "Is this merely a flash in the pan. Any one dealing with the issue realises how heavy the burden of the past is. The burden for many is in the form of myths that are challenged. The primary among these is that somehow India cheated Pakistan out of its legitimate claim on Kashmir or that it was responsible for the creation of Bangladesh. Underlying this is the belief that India remains unreconciled to the creation of Pakistan. Pakistanis are beginning to weigh the price that has been paid (for Pakistan¿s support to terrorists) and to realise that it is far in excess to any gain they may have made, either in monetary or physical terms, or in their national self-esteem." Somehow this intense desire among the ordinary people for normalisation of ties between the two countries had trickled down to the man-in-the-street and formed the best insurance for the success of the current peace process, Joshi concluded.

Times of India staffer, Nina Martyris who was in Pakistan to cover the soft stories, wrote from Karachi: In the streets of Pakistan introducing oneself as Indian brings on the Open Sesame effect. Even those Indians, who venture across the border bristling with patriotism, are forced to concede that despite the political hostility between the two countries, the welcome extended by the average Pakistani is overwhelming. … Perhaps there is a naivety to this goodwill, and undoubtedly if one scratches the surface and embarks on a debate on Kashmir, terrorism, and Kargil, positions will harden and sparks will fly. The ghosts of Partition cannot be laid to rest so easily, said Martyris in her news analysis which carried the headline: "Brothers across the border".

Sujata Dutta Sachdeva wrote from Lahore in the same newspaper a story with the headline, `Not yours or mine, Cup is ours`. Sachdeva described the prevailing sentiment within the stadium as that of camaraderie. A banner in the cricket stadium read - ¿Between brothers no one wins. We are praying for a tie.¿

The Indian team won two consecutive matches to clinch the one-day series leading to comments about match-fixing. A Times of India headline on March 23 said: Its been ¿fixed¿ says the buzz. According to the Lahore/Delhi datelined report, there was no proof but tongues wagged that the goodwill series had been fixed. The report pointed out: "We¿d like to remind our readers of the old, old saying: Cricket is a game of uncertainties." There were heated exchanges with journalists when cricket players on both teams were asked if the match was fixed. But the media as a whole was fairly restrained in writing about the gossip over allegations of match-fixing though there were reports about the huge amounts betted on the game. PTI wrote from Islamabad that the media had lamented Pakistan¿s ¿tame surrender¿. "The Urdu press was more severe as it struggled to come to terms with the fact that Pakistan could be beaten by India in their own den." ¿We gave away the match to be friends with India¿ was the refrain of the papers, it said.

The Times of India carried an editorial: `Pitch of Peace. Fear and Suspicion get hit for a six at Lahore`. "The defining image of the tour so far has been the sheer spontaneous warmth and hospitality with which the people of Pakistan have welcomed the cricketers and the thousands of fans who have followed them there. That is why it is particularly galling that cynical and unsubstantiated allegations of match-fixing should come to mar what has been a tough and closely fought contest," it said.

However, despite all the bonhomie gushing forth in its news pages, The Times of India¿s sports page carried the sub-heading - Mother of all cricket battles while its banner headline on the front page after the Indian win in Multan was `V-Day Arrives After 50 Years` and the strapline read, `After the win, jaadu ki jhappi`. (After the win, the magic hug). After its own war metaphors in seven column wide headlines, The Times of India carried an editorial: Winners All, Multan win is the triumph of sport over politics. The editorial said: "For more than half a century - indeed from the time the two neighbours started playing tests - no Indian team has been close to a win over Pakistan in that country….. In the current media hype - when metaphors of war and aggression are the preferred way of describing the game - it was ironic that the achievement of Dravid and his men was all sport and neither war nor politics."

The cricket tournament provided the opportunity for a discovery of Pakistan that refuted many old stereotypes, especially since both countries have usually denied visas to journalists from the neighbouring country. Dinesh Chopra`s story from Lahore had a headline, `A Hindu playing for Pakistan is normal: Kaneria`. It deals with Chopra`s surprise on learning that a sizeable number of Hindus in Pakistan play cricket. The story began: "Accha bhai, Jai Sri Krishna, says the voice on the phone. You check whether you are still in Pakistan? And the voice on the phone is Pakistan¿s Hindu leg-spinner Danish Parabha Shanker Kaneria. Kaneria says `a Hindu playing for Pakistan is normal. We face no hostility. And please tell people back in India about it.` Don¿t think Kaneria is offering a tasty soundbyte, writes Chopra, there are about 120 odd Hindus playing all over the league and first class cricket who will chorus the same.

Times of India staffer, Nina Martyris did her own exploration of Pakistan, writing on the prison cell where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto spent his last days before being hanged. She describes Peshawar where the government writ ends and tribal law takes over in Khyber region. "It is a deeply troubled area, with the tribals currently embroiled in a struggle against the Pak army. There is a Gun market where you can buy everything from a pen pistol to a Kalshnikov.

The Khyber Pass where Indians are not allowed to go (it is risky, say officials) is an ancient 53-km passage through the Hindu Kush mountains connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan. It is a strategic portal right from 326 BC when Alexander the Great marched through it to India, according to Martyris. Women love burqas and Irfan Patel, says Martyris, there are special ladies enclosure in stadium for women in shuttlecock burqas, but bridal dresses (from Kabul in Najibullah`s reign) on display are sleeveless, much like a bride in a church in the West. Martyris discovers a treasure trove of Buddhist statues from 2nd to 5th century AD at the Peshawar Museum.

Amidst the bonhomie and goodwill there were few negative strains like the Pepsi banner ¿Pakis Khallas, ab aur baki hai pyas¿ (Pakis are finished, our thirst had increased) after the Pakistani team lost two matches. But The Times of India carried a New Delhi datelined story by Anubha Sawhney on the Pepsi banner. It said: "There is no reason for Pepsi to follow the official line on Pakistan, but ad gurus are surprised that the cola company, known for its ability to read the public pulse, has gone wrong this time on the popular mood which is more of bonhomie with the neighbour."

Columnist Balbir Punj`s edit page article in The Times of India on April 9 titled `Cricket for Peace, Vajpayee`s Spin Bowls Over Pakistan` argued that most Pakistanis today desire peace with India, having exhausted other options. "This climate in favour of détente has partly been sparked by a general realisation among Pakistanis about the benefits of a close relationship with India, which has far outstripped the former in terms of economic achievements. While India is powering ahead -- thanks to its quality human resource -- Pakistan has turned itself into something of a basket case, largely because of its involvement in the jehadi cause."

The Hindu columnist, Mike Marqusee analysis of the India-Pakistan series described the phenomenon most aptly in all its shades. Marqusee wrote: "There are few phenomena in world sport more stuffed with symbolism than India-Pakistan cricket. We use cricket as a mirror. But like all mirrors, what you see depends on where you`re standing. The series has served as an appealing advertisement for South Asian peace, an expression of widespread popular aspirations for an end to the wasteful conflict. This symbolism is powerful, but it has limitations and contradictions. For some in India, it is still the `LoC series`. The sponsors invest heavily in the symbolic value of the game, and want to turn it to their advantage. Pepsi is the Pakistan team sponsor, but its advertisements in India celebrated Indian victory with what many felt was haughty aggressiveness."

The India-Pakistan cricket diplomacy brought out the goodwill among the people of both countries and helped to shred some of the misconceptions that have prevailed around the world about the hostility between India and Pakistan. As the Pakistani government had dropped its visa restrictions on journalists from India for the series, a large number of Indian media persons could travel across the border and get a first-hand experience of Pakistan. The media accounts of the positive feelings that were being displayed in Pakistan had a significant role in enhancing the feel-good sentiment in both countries during that period. 

Overall Picture

Indian and Pakistani newspapers tend to carry a sizeable number of reports, articles and commentary related to each other. Though the accent is usually on politics, during the period March 17 to April 17, 2004, which was the four-week period of the India-Pakistan cricket series in Pakistan, it was sports coverage that dominated the Indian newspapers.

A representative sample of two multi-edition English language newspapers and two multi-edition Hindi newspapers for that period, shows that the English language newspapers carry more news and views about Pakistan. The Times of India newspaper carried the largest number of Pakistan-related items with 219 items related to sports. The Times of India had at least three journalists writing from Pakistan during this period, and aside from the sports stories, it carried 36 items on politics, 15 items about cultural issues, 24 reports relating to entertainment and one item on health and education.

The Hindu has a resident correspondent based in Islamabad, and though the newspaper did not send a reporter to cover the cricket series, it had a staffer to cover the South Asian Federation games that were held at that time. The Hindu carried 101 items relating to sports both by their own correspondent as well as agency reports. It carried 40 political items, 11 culture related stories, and one each in the category of entertainment, and health and education. As a rule, The Hindu carries regular news reports on political developments in Pakistan filed by its Islamabad correspondent, B Murlidhar Reddy.

The Hindi daily, Dainik Bhaskar displayed a greater interest in Pakistan with 169 reports on sports during this period and 26 political items, three reports on cultural issues and two items on health and education. The Dainik Jagran had 159 sports stories, 33 on political matters, 9 on cultural issues and none in the category of health and education. Clearly the cricket extravaganza added to the Indian interest in developments in Pakistan. 

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