The Line of Control for the media on both sides is this romantic, dangerous, exciting territory that brings to play by its very mention nationalist jingoism, macho patriotism as we scribes — Indian and Pakistani — struggle to give it a form and substance. So border skirmishes, as and when told to us by the authorities, always acquire these larger connotations even as the reports remain half-baked and speculative. Ignorance about the LoC is justified in our minds as it is covered in a strange kind of defence secrets cloak with the absence of knowledge shining through television channels and media reports that remain dependent on army ‘versions’ of events.
Just a few days ago two Indian soldiers were killed, one of them beheaded, in a most brutal manner by the Pakistan army on our side of the LoC. The news got the nationalist passions running as television anchors acquired military stars in their zeal to defend the country as it were. They ridiculed and humiliated their Pakistani guests on the evening’s entertainment passing as news talk shows; they rejected sane Indian voices calling for dialogue and peace as they clamoured for war; many of them were offensive in their attitude forgetting they were reporters and not officers in uniform carrying a gun. And not a single television channel instructed its reporters to get the facts relying entirely on official statements and hasty interviews to take positions, and churn out their own versions of the story.
The newspapers brought some perspective to the story and let it be known that the border skirmishes had intensified between India and Pakistan for a while; that there were incursions by the Indian troops across the border in which a Pakistan soldier was killed and another seriously injured; that there were unconfirmed reports that Pakistani soldiers too had been beheaded; and while the attack on the Indian troops could not be justified, it was not a unilateral provocation but had to be seen in the context of the recent developments along the LoC. No one can take away from the fact that one of our soldiers was beheaded in an act that does not lend dignity to the Pakistan army but at the same time it is not an act that calls for war.
For once New Delhi has acted with restraint and used its diplomatic might to chastise Pakistan and yet to ensure that there was immediate contact between the Director Generals of Military Operations of both countries in a bid to diffuse the situation across the LoC. It is not clear whether the attack was by the Pakistan regulars or not, but subsequent reports seem to suggest that the special forces could have been responsible. Either ways Pakistan will have to bear the onus, and the muted response on both sides seems to suggest that the sources-based information appearing in Indian newspapers of this being part of the ongoing hostilities at the LoC is correct. And that neither is keen to escalate the situation to a point of no return.
This does not let television anchors and their teeth gritting performances off the hook. These men and women who have appointed themselves as our national custodians will have to realise that one there can be no substitute for cold facts, and as news channels their main purpose is to find the facts and put these out for the viewers even if these do not provide the grist for hysterical debates. Two, slurs and adjectives should not be used against sovereign countries — one anchor kept referring to Pakistan as a rogue nation — with sobriety necessary at all times. Three, guests on a show should be treated with respect or not invited at all as it makes for highly embarrassing television to find guests, whose views do not coincide with the rather limited thoughts of the anchor, being badgered and ridiculed. And four, it is imperative for news shows to be grounded in facts and not emotions and sentiments that seem to guide all such discussions these days. And five, the anchor must remember that he or she is a facilitator to get the news and views out to the viewer who is, and should not be, interested in what the anchor believes or does not believe.
If basic journalistic norms cannot be followed, then these channels should formally turn into ‘news and entertainment’ channels with news interspersed with the screaming ‘shows’ that had a housewife at a party recently confiding, “you know I have stopped seeing these soap shows, I go home and watch Arnab Goswami every night. Its such fun.”
The writer is a senior NewDelhi-based journalist