Unethical Journalism: The Coverage of Mainstream Indian Media about Kashmir Unrest
By Abhay Kumar
The Indian media, barring a tiny section, have now turned itself into a propaganda machine for the state’s ideology and majoritarian sentiments. This is not to say that earlier, the mainstream media were fully objective, but now with its coverage of the ongoing Kashmir crisis, it has gained a new notoriety.
The media in a bourgeoisie democracy, as the liberals and the ruling elites often claim, are “neutral” in reporting on events, to bring to its readers and viewers all dimensions, but the Indian media, especially the 24×7 TV news channels, have fallen far short of such norms. These news channels continue to present the Kashmir issue with a claim that they themselves are “free” and “independent” but, largely, the army and the governments write their scripts. These channels have so far telecast everything except the views of the victims.
Let me first discuss the coverage of the popular Hindi news channel Aaj Tak. The focus of a news programme aired recently wasn’t the untold sufferings of the Kashmiris at the hands of the highly militarized state, but the casualties that the armed forces have suffered. The channel shed tears and beat its chest as it reported that the army personnel were being brutally attacked by the militant Kashmiris and their lives were in a great danger.
Simply put, this is an exaggeration. The protesters will never be able to match the brute force of the state machinery, thanks to which hundreds of civilians have sustained injuries, lost their eyesight, while dozens of them have lost their lives. The curfews have left a large population to live with a scarcity of food items and medicines. Their sufferings are further aggravated by the suspension of phone and internet services whenever the state wishes. But Aaj Tak and the rest of the media have such a blinkered view that they can only see the Indian armed forces as the victim.
The same media have tried their best to hide the militarization of Kashmir for decades. Kashmir remains one of the most militarized zones in the world where people are stopped, frisked, interrogated and asked to prove that they are not a “threat” to security on a daily basis. The whole region is permanently under surveillance and in a state of emergency.
Even when it comes to reporting on the plight of the armed forces, how sincere are the media? Do they have the courage to tell the people that the real threat to the lives of armed forces personnel, recruited mostly from lower strata of society, are not militants but the militarization?
The second example is the representation of Burhan Wani by Zee News, a Hindi news channel notorious for sensationalizing and communalizing issues, including the 9 February 2016 JNU controversy.
The prime-time DNA (Daily News & Analysis) show, hosted by the senior editor and business head of Zee News, Sudhir Chaudhary, who is facing a legal battle with industrialist and Congress party Member of Parliament Navin Jindal for allegedly attempting to “extort” Rs. 100 crore, attempted to create an impression that people’s anger in the Valley against the government and army is not the real (asli) picture of the situation.
In a marked contrast to a mass protest in the Kashmir Valley, Zee News correspondent Rahul Sinha, in this show, took the viewers to a school in a village, Niru, close to the border of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with a claim that Kashmiris, except for some fringe elements whose minds are poisoned by anti-national views, considered India as their country and were against freedom (azadi) for Kashmir.
Note that the reporter did not say much about the school, who runs it and whose children go to study there. Nor did he shed light on the locality of the school, its social composition and its political, social, and economic aspects. The prime focus of the reporter was to prove that the village represented the real and “nationalist” Kashmir where children had no hesitation in shouting slogans such as “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or Long live Mother India, a controversial slogan which was coined during the colonial period and whose chanting is opposed by Muslims, among others, for being against the principle of Islam such as monotheism (tauheed).
The reporter was also silent about how the views of the few children, if they were their views, should be considered as the real voice of the Kashmiris, while thousands of people facing the repression of the police and army personnel, are “misguided” and “sponsored” by “anti-nationals”.
As the show went further, the reporter was shown reaching the class-room where dozens of “nationalist” children, most below the age of fifteen, were sitting. The reporter continued to shout that these children were the true representative of Kashmiri voices, who love their country and oppose any kind of separatism and anti-nationalism.
The reporter, thus, contrasted the opinions of the struggling people in the Kashmir Valley, the Human Rights activists, critical intellectuals with these children whose views were good enough to teach “anti-nationals” a lesson.
In a class-room in the presence of the Zee correspondent, the teacher asked them the name of the Prime Minister. “Shri Narendra Modi” was the prompt replies from students. In this way, the children proved they exhibited their true nationalism in learning by heart the Prime Minister’s name.
Soon the reporter assumed the role of the teacher and asked if they would like to demand azadi [from India]. The reply of a boy was that they were already free and they, as Kashmiris, were given all the rights.
The boy did not stop here. He went on to give a lecture on the state of Pakistan: the trouble (kharabi) had plagued Pakistan, which was facing the threat of terrorism (aatankwad). Thus, if Kashmiris joined Pakistan, they would face a risk and the level of development would be affected.
By watching this video, one would wonder how a small schoolboy could know so much about Pakistan, the issue of terrorism and its relation with the level of growth. The way he spoke, he seemed to be an expert on Pakistan, creating a doubt in the minds of viewers that such a show was a part of the state agenda.
In an earlier programme, Zee news showed Wani wearing a green headband inscribed with Islamic religious symbols. Such a depiction attempted to create an impression that the anger and struggle in Kashmir is inspired by religion. Thus, it tried to convert a purely political issue into a religious issue.
Such a message yields a number of benefits for the Indian political elite: it polarizes society along religious lines, kills support for the victims and cultivates majoritarian sentiments for electoral gains.
Abhay Kumar is pursuing PhD at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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