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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016

When Media peddles Jingoism as Truth

Sunday 16 October 2016

by Garga Chatterjee

September 2016 is witness to an apocalyptic dress-rehearsal where the mainstream media is egging on two nuclear-armed governments for “action” and “reaction”. Humans all over, especially those in the subcontinent, need to sit up and take note of whatever it is that masquerades as the media. After the Uri attacks, there is talk of action and retaliation in the air and even more so in the airwaves. Did the Indian Army jawans die for nothing, some ask? There’s something deeply unethical in the voluntariness that’s always injected in case of Army deaths. It’s not a sin to die of circumstances like tent burning. There is no indignity in it. By calling that sacrifice and death martyrdom, hence implying a more “active” death, one disrespects the dead. Whatever they died for (and all deaths need not be for or against something), I believe they didn’t die so that their death could bring the subcontinent closer to a nuclear war. Many people in the subcontinent love their lives more than they love their government. I’m one of them.

On the whole, the English, Hindi and Urdu media in Pakistan and India are playing a very negative role. They are war-mongering for their respective governments, in the name of the “nation”. The Pakistani media is in denial mode while the Indian media is in finger-pointing mode, none presenting publicly verifiable evidence to back up their claims or refutations. Both run Defence Ministry and government claims without fact-checking, as if fact-checking was blasphemous and questioning was trea-sonous. Both refer to armies and govern-ments as “our”, seriously undermining the status of the media as an independent pillar in a demo-cratic republican setting. A small part of the media in both India and Pakistan, especially the non-English-Hindi-Urdu media is playing a saner role, but they are marginal in setting the so-called “national” narrative. In the Indian Union, Hindi-English television media is playing an especially irresponsible role. The other day, ex-Chief of Indian Army, General Shankar Ray Chowdhury, openly suggested raising suicide squads. Is this not incitement to violence? If not, then what is? Is there a legal exception for ex-Army folks? Does he suggest this strategy to his close relatives? Non-Hindi-English media in both countries seem to have less interest in this long drawn conflict between Delhi and Islamabad.

The role of the mainstream media or any non-propaganda media should be based on facts. They should also be cognisant of the fact that the Indian Union and Pakistani administration are armed with nuclear weapons with powers to destroy each other. The media should also educate their audience about the hugely destructive effects of a nuclear conflict and that nuclear fall-outs do not respect international borders. It should also critically examine claims made by their respective armies and govern-ments. Truth and realism—not jingoism—should drive public opinion.

The media’s job isn’t to act as unquestioning amplifiers of the Ministry of Defence press briefings and Government of India/Pakistan press releases. If that were so, there would be no need for an independent media. What hopefully separates the Indian Union and Pakistan from North Korea on this count is probably this. But that separation is only half the story—Pakistan and the Indian Union are barely separated from each other, globally ranking 133 and 147 out of 180 administrations in the Press Freedom Index of 2016. Recently, Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested after being disallowed from attending a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting abroad. After the Uri attack, a Kashmiri student was expelled from the Aligarh Muslim University for an ‘objection-able’ Facebook post. Whoever thinks that muzzling dissent and fanning jingoism is great strategy has clearly forgotten Benjamin Franklin’s words: “Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”

(Courtesy: Daily News and Analysis)

The author comments on politics and culture.