Twenty-four hours after the Pakistani cricket team had departed from Indian soil last week, after having soundly thrashed the hosts in the one-day series, news first leaked on television of the mutilated bodies of two Indian soldiers being found, and then breathless coverage of one of them being found “decapitated”.
From then on, it has been a relentless slide on television, with Indian anchors, army men, “analysts” and now even the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Pakistan army men, “analysts” and others willing to go through the ignominy each night.
The media (and resultant public) gaze on what is otherwise a fairly routine violation of the ceasefire has led to a less-than-balanced reaction. The Congress is vying with the Shiv Sena for brownie points on patriotism ( a la Pakistani hockey players); the chief of the Army staff Bikram Singh is vying with his Air chief counterpart N.A.K. Browne.
The competitive jingoism—“If Pakistan does not return the head of martyred soldier Hemraj, India should get at least ten heads from the other side”—is being placed all the door of the media, especially the television media.
Editorial in Business Standard:
“It should go without saying that the media has a role in informing and educating a citizenry about the issues of the day, providing background, context and holding the powerful to account. A case study in how not to go about this is currently being provided by the electronic media in its coverage of recent raids and counter-raids on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, in which two Indian soldiers have been killed, and one allegedly subjected to post-mortem mutilation.
“Instead of questioning the narrative, news television and some print outlets have instead blatantly beaten the drums of confrontation, hyping even relatively calm statements by the army chief into belligerent displays of national machismo. Coming at a time when the government is attempting to move forward on dialogue with Pakistan that is very much in the national interest, the question should be asked: are some of India’s news channels, and their pursuit of eyeballs, turning into a national security hazard?
“If the electronic media dragoons a weak Indian government into raising the ante with its Pakistani counterpart at a time when it needs instead to be an ally against the powerful Pakistan military’s ability to hijack the security agenda, then the national interest will suffer a serious blow. More, it will count as a signal ethical failure on the part of whichever media outlet is sacrificing context to sensationalism.
“A handful of bellicose television supremos cannot be allowed to dictate a foreign policy that hurts the interest of India’s citizens.”
Mani Shankar Aiyar in The Indian Express:
My friend, the cine artiste and poet, Farooque Sheikh, has summed it up better than I ever could. He describes the TRP war being whipped up by our hysterical TV anchors as “dangerously boring and boringly dangerous”.
It is precisely because one had anticipated outrages of the kind that occurred on Sunday, January 6 (and have a much longer ancestry than TV anchors and their guest cohorts are willing to acknowledge—such, for example, as revealed by Praveen Swami in The Hindu, that I have for so long been advocating “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” as the only way for India and Pakistan to resolve their issues and normalise their relations.
Editorial in The Hindu:
“Few spectacles have been as unedifying as the contemptible baying of warmongers these past days—most of it, it bears mention, emanating from TV studios located at a safe distance from the nearest bullet.”
Read the full BS editorial: Crossing a red line
Read the Express column: The hostility industry
Read the full Hindu editorial: Stop baying for blood
External reading: Was an Indian soldier decapitated?