Making too much of media diplomacy?

BY sevanti n| IN Media Monitoring | 11/01/2006
When news people achieve star status some hubris can be forgiven, but it is safe to assume that Indo-Pak relations will be governed by other realities.

Sevanti Ninan


It is tempting for journalists to see themselves as catalysts, going beyond reporting history to influencing it. Those who report on foreign affairs and national politics are the most prone to this desire to create the next morning¿s headlines or at least a small ruckus in Parliament. If they are incorrigible optimists they will aspire to nudge policy makers towards a new initiative or conjure up for them a new peril. Karan Thapar falls in this last category most of the time, but others too have succumbed to this "are-you-actually-saying- this-on-this-show" excitement, from time to time. Shekhar  Gupta, famously, when he prodded Nawaz Sharif  into inviting Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take a bus to Lahore, Aroon Purie and Prabhu Chawla last week in their hour-long interview with L K Advani, Rajdeep Sardesai most recently last week after Karan Thapar¿s interview with General Musharraf, pausing mid-discussion to ask whether this was diplomacy by the media. Barkha Dutt got somewhat carried away last year in her single-handed endeavour to turn the earthquake in Pakistan and the cross border relief efforts into a portent of  possible peace, dramatising each day¿s developments on an evening news show for all she was worth.  

When news people achieve star status some hubris can be forgiven.  

Within the space of a week,  three Indian TV exclusives in the new year attempted to make the Indo-Pak peace process a talking point again. On the other side the Pakistani channel Geo which is uplinked from Dubai did likewise, airing a live programme pegged to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq¿s Pakistan visit. There were doubtless other special programmes on this channel as well as on Aaj TV and ARY One, but cable operators in India do not  transmit private Pakistani channels.  So let¿s focus on what we saw here. 

On Headlines Today, an eminently watchable interview with L K Advani actually had him asserting that he thought the Pakistan visit was one of the two landmark events of his career, with his rath yatra being the other one. He described both as making history for his cause. He then sought to clarify that while he wanted normal relations between India and Pakistan there could be no compromise on terrorism. 

Earlier, Thapar had kicked off on CNBC with an interview with Brajesh Mishra, his prod-prod-let-me-reiterate-and-omigosh-you-said-that-did-you style well in place. Mishra obligingly let on that he thought the peace process was in jeopardy because India had not held Pakistan to its commitment on reining in terrorism. The word jeopardy had  Thapar fairly jumping out of his chair in excitement. You¿ve got to hand it to him: despite long years in broadcasting  he is far from jaded. 

Brajesh Mishra brought up the Baluchistan issue, or perhaps Thapar did. It came up again at the beginning of Thapar¿s two part interview on CNN-IBN  with  General Musharraf, but only fleetingly. Nor was it raised by Sardesai in his discussion  with the Indian experts at the end of the interview telecast. Whether it construed India interfering in Pakistan¿s internal affairs, or worse, sponsoring disturbances there, was not discussed. Had it been, may be the results on the sms poll on whether or not the General is to be trusted ( note how questions in such polls are framed) would have been less skewed. It was 16 per cent for the General, and 84 percent against. The figures were 34-66 when the discussion began,  34 per cent trusting the general,  but the number dipped steadily as a the panelists gave Musharraf¿s assertions during the interview a thumbs down.At the end of his half hour show Sardesai said, so India does not trust the General. An sms poll on a 10 pm English show on a less than one-month-old satellite channel represents India! I love that. 

The Musharraf interview to Thapar¿s credit was tightly conducted. It was interesting to see how dismissive the President was of his own country¿s media, particularly of the Herald which last July had a cover story on training camps. The General¿s reaction to the will you-invite-the-PM-to-watch-cricket-now bit was one of amused indulgence quickly backed up with a tart disclaimer. What¿s more, Musharraf let on towards the end that he was not revealing anything that had not already been conveyed to the Indian government. His lets-start-with-three-cities solution had already been proposed to the Indian government, he told a visibly disappointed Thapar.  

I think it is safe to assume that despite Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai  and CNN-IBN, Indo-Pak relations will be governed by other realities. After the Sharif invitation, remember, came Kargil.  But yes, some of us are watching NDTV a little less now, until they come back with their latest bash at news making. Isn¿t that finally what it is all about? 


Transcripts of Karan Thapar¿s interviews with President Musharraf can be found at

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