Views from Srinagar
ON May 8, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti made an appeal to national TV channels not to run debates that could lead to hatred against the people of Kashmir in the rest of India. Her statement came as the Jammu and Kashmir government started functioning from the summer capital of Srinagar after shifting from the winter capital of Jammu.
Her appeal speaks volumes of the role TV channels play, barring a few, in provoking people and pushing them to the wall. And it is tantamount to censure given that it came from the chief minister of state who is duly elected and believes in being an Indian. There are, of course, many reasons for the deterioration of situation in Kashmir, but newsrooms have fanned the trouble by setting the belligerent tone of debates. Of late, Kashmir has become a springboard for these channels to compete with each other to get better ratings—it is not their concern whether they are improving or complicating public opinion as the Fourth Estate.
On the day when a new TV channel was being launched, competitors had “exclusives” up their sleeves. One of them ran an ‘exclusive’ about Pakistan funding the Hurriyat Conference. The debate ran for a whole day with the hashtag #BanHurriyat. This was, however, hardly an exclusive or a matter not known to the world; Pakistan supporting Hurriyat is an old story and what was “leaked” by the channel did not make any difference except to provoke people and create a perception that suggested Pakistan had control over Kashmir.
In response, the other channels upped the ante to “reclaim” the “lost Kashmir” and continued to rely on a narrative of what they chose to describe as Islamist radicalization, Wahabism, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism etc. Going by what is being fed to them, the channels have literally set Kashmir on fire with such debates, and these are the ones Mehbooba Mufti was referring to.
Television channels make no bones about being nationalistic and standing by the country’s sovereignty as if they were part of the armed forces. They give the impression that they are working in the national interest since Jammu and Kashmir is an “integral part of India”. For them, the army and paramilitary forces are fighting a proxy war and all of those tens of thousands of people who are resisting are being “misled” by Pakistan. For them, Jammu & Kashmir is not a political issue and the new narrative is only one of Islamist radicalization.
The hysteria unleashed by these channels across India has already come at a cost. One is the perception that Kashmiris are enemies of India and parasites who are fed by the government. This point of view has majorly contributed to attacks on Kashmiris living or studying in other states of India. It has also set in motion a new thought process among the average Indian that Kashmir needed to be “conquered” through the army and that Kashmiris were indeed surviving on their tax money. The public opinion in India has changed and sadly, it is echoing the rant about this being a problem created by Pakistan and Islamists.
This narrative ignores the fact that Kashmir was, is and will remain a political dispute, an analysis that does not fit in with the contours of nationalism that the TV channels are parroting. They show Kashmir selectively; they will air a video in which a CRPF jawan is seen being heckled by Kashmiri boys but will not give the same treatment to a video of a civilian tied to an Army jeep as a human shield. Nowhere in the textbooks of journalism does it say that you have to be loyal to the nation—but you have to be loyal to the citizen first and their interests. Fair journalism upholds democratic values in the public sphere. India is the largest democracy in the world and by adhering to democratic values one respects that spirit of democracy. But in the case of TV channels, it seems that the fundamentals of journalism have changed. Accepting the reality on the ground and striving to look for solutions to those problems in a democratic way is the duty of a journalist. Not jingoism.
Until the arrival of television media, India was better off with print journalism, even though they always treated Kashmir as the ‘Other’ and saw it through the lens of a “nationalistic mindset”. Since print did not have as much impact as TV, it did not do the same damage TV channels have done to Kashmir. By shouting at the top of their voices in primetime slots most anchors behave like propaganda secretaries of the armed forces.
The killing of a soldier is painted as a nation at war. Tension between India and Pakistan has been an old story for several decades but TV channels have taken it to a new level. It literally seems like wars are being fought on air. The anchors not only train their guns at Islamabad but they put all their effort into denigrating Kashmiris and challenging their wisdom and worth. This has severely damaged their “national interest” in Kashmir.
Interestingly, just as the chief minister was admitting that Indian channels were conduits of hatred, her government was forced to ban 34 of those beaming out from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many of them are channels based on religious content. If the basis of that argument is that these channels were responsible for trouble, then by her own admission, news channels in Kashmir are also fit to be banned.
This is not the first time that Kashmiris have been watching Pakistani channels. Of late, the viewership of channels showing daily soaps and cooking shows has been popular in the valley. But for a long time, the credibility of Pakistan TV and the radio have been at its lowest.
The joke is that if one were to go by the Pakistani TV channel accounts of Indian soldiers being killed by militants, the army would have been finished off by now. The argument that these channels were illegal may be sound but then this gives rise to the question of why they were allowed to operate for so long? Interestingly, one of the banned channels is Noor TV, which has a Sufi orientation and for a while now, so-called Kashmir experts in Delhi have been making a case for the revival of Sufi Islam, which according to them was under threat from “Wahabi” Islam.
Delhi’s Kashmir policy has been full of contradictions. If the newspapers in Kashmir are banned and deprived of advertisements issued by Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) Government of India, by the logic that their content contributes to unrest, then why is no action taken against TV channels which are inimical to peace? As long as this double standard continues to guide policy, no change can be expected. TV channels must look inwards and do the kind of journalism that serves real ‘national interest’ and not the fake nationalism that is only aimed at making money.
[Writer is Chief Editor Rising Kashmir Srinagar]