Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]
Portraying Kashmir: Local Media Vs National Media
Monday 15 August 2016
by Mohd. Afsar
Since the past few years, a section of the national media is misrepresenting the image of Kashmir in India either by exaggerating the events or by spinning the facts. It seems to be a part of some political strategy or pressure. So there is nothing surprising to see the kind of information which is being provided by the national media on the ongoing Kashmir events after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani by the security forces. The coverage of the current Kashmir events by the local media in Kashmir and the national media differ in terms of how they represent the information. A major section of the national media is showing a one sided image of Kashmir due to some possible political relations or pressure or to gain TRPs, while the local media tries to present all sides of the ongoing happenings. It is interesting to see which media is doing the coverage ethically, responsibly and appropriately.
The primary role of the media in any conflict or violence area is to force the existing govern-ment to take actions and measures to ensure peace and to provide all kinds of help to the victims, be it medical, financial, fulfilment of day-to-day needs of food and water or to make an emotional bond with the civilians so that they feel safe. The reporting of the current Kashmir violence by most of the national media does not emphasise on the medical emergency that the hospitals are facing in terms of the scarcity of beds for the victims in the hospitals, lack of sufficient medical staff for the treatment of the injured and does not emphasise on the scarcity of day-to-day essentials such as food, education, electricity etc. for the civilians. Those who have given information regarding these basic needs of the civilians are relatively very less and hence do not contribute much to rouse the government towards the fulfilment of the needs of the common people in the Valley. For example, The Indian Express highlighted the medical emergencies at hospitals in the news story showcasing the round-the-clock working of doctors.1 NDTV showed a report on how volunteers are helping the victims in providing medicines.2 These reports do not highlight or elaborate enough on the frightening situation of medical and food supplies in the Valley.
The difference in the extent of coverage by the local media of these issues better tells the story. The local newspaper, Greater Kashmir, reported the shortage of baby food in the Valley. The newspaper reports that it has received numerous complaints from various curfewed districts by people of facing scarcity of baby food and daily essentials like foodgrains, vegetables, bread, medicines and milk. One of the quotes from an aggrieved resident in the report stated: “Local grocers and shopkeepers are not being allowed to run shops even in the interiors. The forces are not allowing us to venture out.” Another quote is by one of the callers from the Valley who told the newspaper: “We were not allowed to purchase bread in the morning. Security personnel told us not to venture out.”3 The local newspaper, Kashmir Observer, showed a report about the scarcity of essential items and exploded crisis of medical supplies. It showed a quote from an owner of the medical store Shabir Bhat: “I could not help. I am running short of supplies.”4. The stories on the ongoing acute shortages of food and medicines could be seen in the Kashmir Monitor newspaper too. Apart from the news on inadequacy of essentials, the report also focused on the need of internet and mobile phones connectivity. In one of its reports, the President of the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) told Kashmir Monitor: “On one hand helpline numbers are provided to the people in view of medical emergency; on the other hand cell phone services are suspended. The sick and wounded are denied access to medical services.”5 The difference in the kind of reporting in the national media and local media is primarily because the national media takes inputs mainly from only one side of the conflict, that is, from government sources. This is because the local media interacts more with the residents of the Valley and therefore this may also be a reason that the people feel safer to interact with the local media and rely more on them.
The media can potentially become a source of divisiveness or harmony in conflict zones based on what kind of information is being provided. The national media on the ongoing Kashmir conflict is not trying to moderate the ongoing conflicts and violence but acting as a contributor in intensifying the situation. The role of the media is not to exaggerate the situation or to provoke people for violence but help by all means to retain peace in these circumstances. It is not that reporting the violence exaggerates the situation; instead it is the extent of its coverage. The Times of India reported in a news story on how the mosque loudspeakers incite the youth to join the ‘anti-India jihad’ but has not specified the input source of this story and also did not specify the location of these mosques.6 The incomplete or unauthentic news in these kinds of circumstances could inflame the situation. The media should present the facts of the happenings from all sides of the conflict to avoid these kinds of consequences. In Kashmir, there are different sides of the conflict, one is of the Army and police, the other is of the government and another is of the civilians. The local media has tried to convey to the reader/viewer all these sides. This could be seen from various local news reports. One of them is a report in the Greater Kashmir newspaper which contains information on the death and injuries of both the civilians and security personnel, quotes from the eye-witnesses of the protest to show the protesters’ view too and statements from the police officials about controlling the law and order situation.7
The local mediapersons cover such situations extensively in comparison to the national media reporters. That’s why the local government restricts the access of local reporters to persons and places and eases the access of the Delhi mediapersons. This is clearly evident when the local government banned the local media and not the national media so that it can shape the coverage in their suited way. Moreover, the government wants the journalists to comple-ment its actions rather than perform their job to investigate the facts and present the real picture of the events.
The newspaper Kashmir Observer on July 26, 2016 published a report in which retired Major Dinesh Tiwari, who was stationed in Kashmir, explained why Kashmir is still burning. He reminisces about his experience as a child growing up in Nepal when the country was going through Maoist insurgency and draws parallels between his teenage persona’s conflicted emotions and those of today’s Kashmiri youth. News stories like these do provide the other side too which includes an emotional and humane angle. The local media presents stories like these which help to moderate the situation while the national media holds hot debates and discussions and stories conveying the communal angle. A few examples of debate are: “Why are separatists targeting patriotic residents in Kashmir?”, “Why has patriotism became a bane in Kashmir?” and “Who is funding Kashmir for spreading terrorism and separatism?” on Zee News. News report on ABP News starts with contents like “The present unrest in Kashmir, also known as the Burhan aftermath, is a series of violent protests in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.”8 Does a viewer or a reader get even a feel of what is happening on the ground in the Valley after seeing and reading these types of reports? Does he get facts from each side of the conflict? No. Instead a different kind of perception is made which is shaped by the officials in Kashmir and shown by the national media. In addition, some communal angle is intentionally being injected into the news stories on the national media to gain TRPs as well as due to some political relations. We have a number of times in our country, from the Gujarat riots to UP riots, seen that whenever there is violence or conflict, political parties always have grabbed it as a golden opportunity to fulfil their political propaganda. Why should we fall into their traps again and again? Which type of role is the media playing in such situations? You as a viewer or a reader have to think about it and decide.
Critical Analysis of the News Coverage
Differences in the perspectives of the news reporting in the national media and local Kashmir media could be easily seen from the above cited news coverage. It also points to the importance of the local media. Without the local media, one wouldn’t know the other side of the violence, conflict or any event. However, it is not that what the national media has reported is false or incorrect but the reality perhaps is based on how the facts are highlighted and reported. The coverage by the national media mostly presents the government’s point of view. They lack insight into the events happening on the ground which are reported in the regional Kashmiri media in detail. The media is supposed to be on neither side. It should remain neutral. It is also a fact that the national media cannot report the local Kashmiri issues as deeply as the regional media can, which shows the need for a dynamic local media.
Conflicts do not occur spontaneously but they have a history. The local media usually has a deeper understanding of the existing political structures and events. The Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict between India and Pakistan started just after the partition in 1947. In view of its long history of conflicts, the media should act responsibly to disseminate news. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “Indian security forces have assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks. Rape most often occurs during crackdowns, cordon-and-search operations during which men are held for identification in parks or schoolyards while security forces search their homes. In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population, most frequently by beating or otherwise assaulting residents, and burning their homes. Rape is used as a means of targeting women whom the security forces accuse of being militant sympathisers; in raping them, the security forces are attempting to punish and humiliate the entire community.”9 Is the media showing this side too to the viewer or reader?
The picture of real events in Kashmir is depicted differently by the images of the dead bodies of civilians and the injured being carried on stretchers in the local media and with the pictures of ‘masked stone-pelters and curfew-hit streets’ in the national media. For the Kashmiri local news media, dead civilians are not a mere count, they’re actual lives that are being taken in the violence.
What we see in the national media channels is that a correspondent roams around in the curfewed city and acts like he is covering the war in Syria. Most of the national news media-persons do not make their own judgments on what is happening in Kashmir but rely hook, line and sinker on the information given by officials. This restrains them from a complete coverage of the events from different angles.
Ideal Role that should be played by the Media
The Preamble of the Code of Ethics of Society of Professional Journalists, one of the foremost voices in the US on the subject of Journalistic Standards and Ethics, states: “The duty of the journalist is to provide a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialists strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”10 Journalistic objectivity requires that a journalist must report only the facts and not a personal approach towards the facts and clearly distinguish disseminating information from analysis and opinions. A viewer should get a real and true picture of what and why is actually happening. The media should provide truthful and objective infor-mation to the people that will enable them to form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy. Responsible media should describe reality without exaggeration. But the question today is: “Is the media performing this role properly?”
Episodic coverage in conflict zones should not be carried out. The media should thoroughly understand the history of the conflict to present a true picture of the happenings. The media’s actions in the Balkans, conflicts between Serbians and Croatians, are a prime example of how the media can be a source of inciter of conflict rather than a source for peace. In addition to fanning the flames of violence, the media was also guilty of obstructing peacemaking efforts by failing to objectively present views of the minority.
The media should try to uncover the causes behind a conflict or violence. It should not try to exploit the damage of the infrastructure, deaths or injuries of the victims. The ethical media guidelines speak to document the suffering and loss on all sides of the conflict and violence. The media should suggest possible solutions to resolve the conflicts and to control the violence.
It’s high time to start introspecting today’s national media in our country.
1. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/kashmir-violence-doctors-at-srinagar-hospital-say- rush-of-pellet-victims-unprecedented-2915148/
6. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Kashmir-violence-Mob-drowns-cop-in-Jhelum-toll-now- 23/articleshow/53145925.cms
9. “Bijbehara massacre: Guilty yet to be punished even after 19 years”, Kashmir Times. Retrieved on November 11, 2012.
10. Warren G. Bovée (1999), Discovering Journalism, Greenwood, p. 203.
The author is a senior correspondent, India News. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org