Flip-Side Media Voices & Kashmir

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SRINAGAR: Kashmir is a place where the role of National media has been subject matter of debate for a long time as the national media has contributed a lot to the insensitivities of turbulent Kashmir time and again.

The prime time debates and shows in major national television channels find Kashmir as a hot cake which not only has proven a significant topic to generate Television rating of people (TRP) but also has rose many news personalities to fame.

In between the media trail of Kashmir issues has only create alienation in Kashmir due its vitriolic nature. The local populace in Kashmir believe that all “Indian media” is biased and some TV news channels and the majority of social media voices are vitriolic on the Kashmir issue. Many believes that the one sided debates seems more like a fixed game to generate noise to grab attention, hence rendering Kashmir to suffer with a bad image.

Many researches and researchers have found Kashmir as a victim of national media propaganda which is responsible for no good to Kashmir.  Besides it has been observed that the TRP battle between the television ventures has not only given birth to judgmental newsrooms in the name to nationalism and patriotism but also brought shame to media and its ethics.

On 15 August 2016, Mohd. Afsar, a senior correspondent of India News in his analytic piece titled, ‘Portraying Kashmir: Local Media Vs National Media’ is of the view that, “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”.

It is worthy to mention that the media propaganda in case of Kashmir to generate fame and ratings has reached to the extent, where the Anchors have turned to be Judges, actors and dictators. These anchors often abuse, shout and even decide the punishment for the counter panelist from Kashmir. Interestingly they threaten to stop the audio of Kashmir panelist if he didn’t stop arguing what they call as anti-national perspective. Many of time these panelist walk out of the show or thrown out of the program by the so called patriotic or nationalist journalist cum anchor. However in next debate they again appear in the show. This shows that the so called debate is mare a stunt to make debate sensational to compete in the trending noisy news market.

On 16 June 2017, Senior Journalist And Editor , Shujaat Bukhari, in his write up, titled, ‘Prime Time Propaganda’, said that there is both amusement and outrage in Kashmir over recent remarks made by some of the panelists on TV channels that have devoted most of their prime time to discussing Kashmir.

He said, “Whether relevant or not, the channels have, by their conduct proved that they have an agenda of keeping Kashmir’s pot boiling to give a cover to any action the government was contemplating. The average Kashmiri is baffled to see the prime time studios full of noise that is loaded with venom against them. Even as some semblance of normalcy returns to the valley, the prime time discussions give the impression that it is burning. Of late, the channels have crossed the limits of decency and have fallen from grace on Kashmir debates by giving space to many people whose words don’t fit in any framework of civility much less the journalism”.

Bukhari is of the opinion that Kashmir has been facing the brunt of propaganda for quite some time. It has been unleashed by most of the Indian media, particularly the TV channels. It has been gaining an impetus from government functionaries and the spokespersons of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which in other words would mean that this line of thinking has official sanction. Bukhari observes that some of the ministers in the BJP government in Delhi are regularly featured in these anti-Kashmiri capsules that are aimed at denigrating the people and discrediting their urge for a political resolution to the dispute.

“This much is not new in the government narrative: accusing Pakistan of fueling the unrest and propelling militants forward to create disturbances. But what is new is the propaganda to abuse Kashmiris and blame them or Pakistan for the current crisis. Going by this media blitzkrieg, one would get the impression that New Delhi has not done anything wrong since 1947”, he wrote.

Danish Nabi Gadda, a Junior Research Fellow, Media Education Research Centre (MERC), University of Kashmir in his content analyses over ‘A study of national media of India and Kashmir conflict’ describes coverage of Kashmir by National media as “Partial journalism”.

He argues that the media has reported Kashmir situation with a partial approach narrating only what fits the official policy and ignoring anything closer to the reality and this is creating a mental and ideological divide between people and the rest of country.

According to the finding of his study, he establishes that the national press has downplayed the strikes in Kashmir Valley either by not publishing the news stories about strikes; by portraying the strikes as “sponsored” programmes of resistance leaders, “crippling” or “halting” the normal life; or by diluting the details about strikes.

It is not only the intellectual class or the general masses who found these television and other national media reportage as provocative and propaganda but even the mainstream politicians including those in government have time and again blamed these sensational, hypersensitive reportages for disturbing the situation in valley.

On Jun 04, 2017, Education Minister, Altaf Bukhari, slammed the national media for not showing the “true picture” about Kashmir. “A national news channel is showing since morning that the house of Mushtaq Chaya, who is a prominent hotelier of Kashmir, has been raided by the NIA team. It is not the truth,” Bukhari told media while speaking about the NIA raids in Kashmir. Bukhari, who is a senior PDP leader, said the national media wants to put “Kashmir on fire”. “Please allow us to live peacefully. We want peace here. But some news channels want to put Kashmir on fire. They are not showing true picture about the valley,” he said.

On June 15, 2017, PDP youth leader and secretary Jammu & Kashmir Sports Council, Waheed Para said that national media is wrongly portraying Kashmir and are not covering positive sports stories come out of the state. Para said lot of positive sports stories are happening in the valley day in and day out but such positive things are never reported by the national media.

He said that the national media is giving flip-side coverage to the issues taking place in Kashmir for their TRPs.  “Sports is a neutral institution and people are entitled to sports teams and games of their choice. Positive youth stories are not covered,” he said. “By such coverage the people in the country believe that Kashmir is a risky place to visit. But once those people visit here things are quite contrary to what the media shows them,” he said.

The adverse, pessimistic projection of Kashmir in news channels and newspapers now even has Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti talking about it. She recently said that sections of the national media, “by discussing a few people and broadcasting their speeches and by running their images repeatedly, are out to spread hatred against my people (Kashmiris) in India.”

Worthy to mention that, on 30 August 2016, Naseer Ahmed, a senior journalist based in Kashmir, resigned from his post at IBN7, a news channel under Network18. Ahmed, who previously worked as the Srinagar bureau chief for Zee News for 16 years, had been reporting for IBN7 from the valley since November 2014. In his resignation, he noted that he had had a “nice experience” during the 23 months for which he had worked with the organisation.

“But during last fifty-two days’ I observed Television journalism in India has taken ‘U’ turn and it portrays unnecessary, biased and partial news reports,” he continued. He added, “Nationalism to some level is fine but when an assistant professor or an ATM guard is being murdered in cold blood by government forces and one can’t report then in my opinion it’s no more journalism, so I have decided to call it a day,” he wrote as per reports.

Wasim Khalid, a journalist based in Srinagar in his case study of the Kashmir floods, titled, ‘Media Propaganda and the Kashmir Dispute’, examines coverage of the floods that devastated Kashmir in September 2014.

The study compares how the floods were reported by India’s national media and by international media.  Based on content analysis of reports published in the Times of India newspaper and broadcast on New Delhi TV (NDTV) in the week immediately after the floods, the research reveals that New Delhi-based media coverage was overwhelmingly in favour of the Indian government and armed forces. The Times of India devoted more than half (57%) of its coverage specifically to the army’s relief efforts and NDTV focused almost entirely (97%) on the role played by the army and the government in the crisis. Both outlets appear to have ignored the contribution made by local Kashmiri volunteer rescuers. Indian media coverage was also notably security-centric, possibly to create sympathy for the Indian army, typically viewed as an occupying force in the region. The study did not address whether this was a deliberate policy and no evidence was therefore put forward to support this.

The study demonstrates that the international media (BBC online, Al Jazeera, Reuters and the Financial Times, London) presented a more balanced view of the crisis, recognising the work of all actors involved in rescue operations. Kashmiri people featured in the reporting, and their voices and political views were quoted. The international media also reported the political context of the disaster in an objective way. This was notably different to how it was reported by the Indian media, the study of Khalid reveals.

On June 3, 2016, a discussion on based on theme ‘Kashmir as projected in National media and how it influences the people’ was organized by a Chandigarh based Institute. This was to allow different stakeholders to vent their views so that media and more importantly the National media reports Kashmir related news more accurately.

During the discussion, Prof Gull Wani, a professor of political science at Kashmir University said, “I would suggest that in a more democratic media scene emerging in the world   the National media particularly electronic needs to be sensitive in its coverage of Kashmir related news .The media as a whole generally comes across as insensitive, caring only about the story and not about the people in the story. He said that the media persons need to understand that they are human beings primarily and journalism comes second as far as order and balance in the society is concerned.

In recent days, two comments made by panelists on a TV channel enraged people but in one case there was much amusement and social media was full of jokes. The one comment which evoked a sharp reaction was made by one RSN Singh, a retired Colonel that Kashmiri youngsters were the ‘illegitimate offspring’ of foreign militants and that is why they were valiantly taking on government forces.

The other comment was made by a former Army Major Gaurav Arya that why Kashmiris had red cheeks and why there were no deaths from malnutrition in Kashmir and how they were surviving in unrest when everything was shut. Their shameful comments were seen enjoyed by the anchors instead of objecting to it indicates that these channels have disgraced the profession of journalism.

Mir Iqbal, a young journalist based in Srinagar said that Kashmir is a hot selling product for TV channels in India.

“They sell it like anything in India. And with the emergence of Modi led government, which has almost purchased these debates. BJP has nothing to showcase nor are they willing to debate real issues. To shy away from real issues, these TV channels touch Kashmir issue”, he said.

He argues that like Kashmiri love Pakistan Cricket team similarly India love to see the miseries in Kashmir. “They invite hyper nationalist ideology people in these debates to sensitize the Kashmir issue and put before its viewers,” Iqbal adds.

However many argued that these biased and jingoistic media ventures, especially television channels should be barred from airing in the valley to prevent damage of peace and prosperity. While many say that in Kashmir people simply hate them and now it hardly affects their mind but they lament this propaganda dents Kashmiries image in other parts of country.

Hence, the national media should, what chief minister Mehbooba Mufti calls it, ‘stop spreading hatred against people of Kashmir’.  There is much more than anti-national angle and traitor games in Kashmir which can generate more TRP to these newsrooms without denting the turbulent valley anymore.

Irfan Quraishi is a Srinagar based Broadcast & Multimedia journalist in Kashmir. He has previously worked as Bureau Chief for Day & Night News and as Correspondent for Kashmir Times. He had been a fellow of Thomson Reuters Foundation London and RNTC Europe.