Indo Pak mags excel in terror coverage

BY mannika| IN Media Monitoring | 03/12/2005
The Herald’s cover story disproved the notion that the contours of professional media in a democracy and dictatorship differ. Indo-Pak media perspectives on terror--Part III

In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the third article in the final part of an analytic series on the  comparative coverage of the same events in India and Pakistan in July. A Panos-funded project on the Hoot.

Mannika Chopra

The four Pakistani and Indian news magazines (Herald, Newsline, India Today and Outlook) selected for monitoring were, if not saturated by the terror and the violence that bludgeoned the world in July, certainly dominated by it. Herald and Newsline, both monthlies printed from Karachi, devoted their July covers to terror and its variations. Of the Indian weeklies, India Today earmarked two of its covers to terror (¿Ayodhya: A Narrow Escape¿/July 18 and ¿Al Qaida: New Matrix of Terror/ July 25) while Outlook allocated one cover to the topic of terrorism (¿The London Bombings:The Pakistan Connection¿/July 25.)

 Though reportage on terror in these blue blooded magazines may not have been dense, it was in-depth and nuanced. Deadline compulsions, a news necessity to give something beyond what was being offered by 24 hour news channels and the dailies, the rejection of half truths dictated by the spinmeisters, were all roadblocks to quick coverage but they also inspired a different response to the summer of violence and introduced some exciting new media standards. 

In the potpourri that is journalism, some of it horrible, a bulk of it routine, Herald, part of the Jang group, started the month with some outstanding investigation. Coincidentally its July cover (¿Back to Camp¿) dealt with the existence of training camps for militants. It must have been planned well before the July 7 attacks in London but fitted in perfectly in the global news cycle when it appeared on the news stands. To those news consumers who believe that the contours of professional media in a democracy and dictatorship differ, Herald¿s cover story proved otherwise. A detailed, 12-page, report convincingly challenged the establishment¿s assertion that no training camps for militants existed within Pakistan. 

 Divided into four features, the main story by Zulfiqar Ali, dealt with the rehabilitation of one of the oldest training camps in the mountainous areas near Manshera in the country¿s North West Frontier Province. In another accompanying feature from Muzafarabad the same reporter tracked a leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front who revealed how Kashmir nationalists had been trained, and then abandoned by Pakistan¿s main intelligence agency, the ISI. Much more dreadful was a report on how hundreds of young boys between the ages of 13-15 years were becoming canon fodder for dangerous militant campaigns.  Equally horrifying was an accompanying report (¿Double Trouble ¿) on how lately suicide attacks were using  multiple bombers as a back up. The reports though did err on the side of caution, as there was no criticism/account of frenzied clergy or fanatics who were tempting young boys to "enter the folds of Islam."  

Nevertheless the depicted truths were too painful and powerful to be ignored. And the Herald report, including its denials from various government officials, was picked up by Outlook in a toned down, one pager from Lahore by Amir Mir. (¿Open for admission¿). The feature was part of the news magazine¿s six page cover on the London blasts (¿London Bombings and the Pakistan Connection¿/July25.) The cover story by Outlook¿s staffer in London, Sanjay Suri, outlined why the face of the terrorist had changed from that of the scruffy stereotype to that of a more secure, middle class Brit. Comparisons between second generation Pakistani and Indian Muslims were also made. "School results regularly show Pakistanis are down at the bottom of the table, at opposite ends to Indians. "The national average is 50 per cent of students getting the top five grades in GCSE exams," Prof Muhammed Anwar from the Centre of Research in Ethnic Relations at Warwick University told Outlook. "For Pakistani and Bangladeshi students it is just 30 per cent, for Indian and Chinese students it`s much higher than the national average."  

In a more erudite comment, columnist Prem Shankar Jha (¿Terror:From Seed to Tree) drew on American reactions to the London blasts. "In American commentaries, there is more than a hint of reproof." Why are you not more angry, more belligerent? When so many innocent people have died, why are you willing even to entertain the notion that your own past policies might have had something to do with it? Why, in short, are you not more like us?" The difference is one of objectives. While Condoleezza Rice called a meeting of the National Security Council immediately after 9/11 to ask "how to capitalise on these opportunities", Tony Blair`s government is determined to minimise the fallout of the attacks on British society. But there is another reason why the UK government is reacting so differently from the US. Its awareness, from the very first day, that it was facing an entirely new breed of terrorists against whom all previously developed methods of surveillance and interdiction had proved ineffective. Introspection is therefore an imperative…." 

Newsline, too, used the heading ¿ The Pakistan Connection¿ on its July cover by Massoud Ansari. But while Outlook examined the social and economic reasons behind the rise of terrorist activities amongst second generation Pakistani Muslims in Britain, Newsline drew out exhaustive linkages between the three Pakistani suicide bombers and their visits to madarsahs to seek advice from ¿terror gurus¿.  A lot of the information seemed sourced from the government "….local intelligence officials do admit to knowing that militants linked to Al-Qaeda had, for the past couple of years, been looking around to recruit `suitable operatives,` who could carry out suicide missions in the heart of London. " On record, though, Pakistani officials refuted the existence of camp once again reflecting the symbiotic dance between government and press. 

Two accompanying boxes dealt with suicide attacks. ¿Mission Suicide¿ reported by Massoud Ansari examined how an extremist organisation Hizbul Tehrir, banned in Pakistan but not in Britain, indoctrinated youngsters to offer themselves up for suicide missions under the guise of `missionary activity.`  A feature by Amir Mir (¿Misguided Missiles.¿) was a little misleading. The introduction to the report suggested that it was delving into the reasons why young men in the prime of their lives would risk killing themselves but on reading turned out to be a detailed profile of the four suicide bombers in London.  The sketches did not explain what was at stake; neither was it humanized or placed in the context of the community. 

In its 28 page cover story, India Today dealt with the reality and the abstract nature of terrorism (¿Al-Qaida: New Matrix of Terror¿/July25). Realizing it was a hot button issue that fell into its lap, the weekly offered an in depth, combo approach which included reports from London and New York; a lead essay (¿Standing Up to the Horror¿) by staffer S. Prasannarajan, a report on the Al Qaeda (¿The New Matrix of Terror¿) by London based Jason Burke, author of  Al- Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam and the Lakshkar i Toiba, (LeT) and a column by Dilip Hiro on the Iraq angle. The packaging, including a splendid visual of attacks carried out by the Al-Qaeda since 9/11 was almost encyclopedic in detail.  

Using unnamed intelligence sources the report on the Let (¿Villain No: 1¿) underlined the nexus between the Al Qaeda and the terror tactics of the Pakistani extremist group. " "The LeT and Al-Qaida share ideology and infrastructure," says a top security official in Kashmir. Most of the top rung LeT leaders are Afghan war veterans who have trained in the Kunar province of Afghanistan and were part of the Taliban militia till the 9/11 attacks.  "The battle hardened LeT militants are the main trainers of the jehad camps, " says a police intelligence officer in Srinagar. " They are not sent to Kashmir now because they are considered to be too valuable and are projected as iconic jehadis before recruits."  

Despite this comprehensive editorial strategy that even recalled a special issue by the magazine on 9/11 (¿Jehad Against the World¿/ September /2001) the magazine¿s reportage showed the need for specialisation within the ranks. If anything, current events have added a whole new dimension to journalism. Sadly, news outlets need to have correspondents who are terrorism experts for those hard hitting, investigative reports.  

The attack on Ayodhya also triggered a more holistic cover by India Today (¿Attack on Ayodhya: Narrow Escape¿/July11). The eight page cover story filled with ghoulish visuals including a two page graphic on ¿Anatomy of an Encounter¿ that replayed the attack, practically minute by minute. The cover story enumerated the new terror modules being used outside Kashmir by terrorists which had the potential to destroy the new found bonhomie between India and Pakistan. "Terror with a definitive religious address is no longer a distant memory pushed back of the national mind by the euphoria of cross border peace talks. Ayodhya is just another bloody reminder,¿¿ wrote the triple by line of Subash Mishra, Ramesh Vinayak and Sandeep Unithan in the lead story.¿Terror in the Temple¿).  Accompanied by detailed side bars, various attacks on religious places were spelt out (¿Faith under Fire¿). 

Outlook ignored the Ayodhya attack as a cover but gave the issue some perspective by focusing on security lapse and the political ramifications of the attack on the fractious saffron brotherhood (The security lapses issue gets buried in the Centre-State bickering¿/July 18). Saikat Datta wrote; "Several security lapses have come to the fore even as the probe got under way into last week`s terrorist attack in Ayodhya. Intelligence officials are surprised that an elaborate security cordon—1,200 personnel drawn from the state police and PAC—was so easily breached. Officials accompanied Union home minister Shivraj Patil on his stock-taking visit to the spot were also amazed to find that the terrorists were aware of the approach route to the sanctum sanctorum. This, they took after blowing up an iron fence with an explosives-laden jeep." 

In his column in Outlook, ¿bull¿s eye¿ Rajinder Puri comment looked at political repercussions. (July 25) "Immediately after the attack on Ayodhya, VHP leader Praveen Togadia declared on television that only by attacking and occupying Lahore and Rawalpindi could terrorism be ended. Deliberately or otherwise, was he not aiding the global terrorist network? Think!" 

But perhaps a small shaded box that appeared a week earlier was more thought provoking. (¿Bomb In Our Minds: Two Nations, Two attacks/ A lesson in national consciousness. /July18. ) 

"Same week, two terrorist incidents. And at two different places, in Ayodhya and London; a theme of senseless violence uniting India and Britain. But that`s where the similarity ends: the Opposition in the two countries presented a stark contrast in responses to the terrorist violence. In India, the dastardly attack on the makeshift Ram temple prompted the Opposition to bay for Congress blood…..In London, by contrast, the entire Opposition was behind Tony Blair. Forgotten was the Iraq war, the duplicity of 10 Downing Street over WMDs, Labour`s betrayal of the faith people had reposed in it. Perhaps Manmohan should send the luminaries of the Sangh parivar to Gleneagles, where they could have been taught, British style, on how to behave in a national crisis."


(Note: Al Qaeda is spelt Al Qaida when it is in a quote from a publication which spells it differently.)







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