After the abrogation of Article 370 and clampdown on Kashmir, several international media houses such as BBC, The Washington Post, Reuters and The New York Times reported on the tense atmosphere in J&K, protests by Kashmiris and detentions. The Narendra Modi government has dismissed these foreign media reports.
ThePrint asks: Should India be offended by BBC, Washington Post, New York Times coverage of Kashmir?
When governments want to hide subjugation of their own people, they put a no-entry barrier for foreign media
Contributing editor, ThePrint
A few leading foreign media outlets have done more to shed light on the situation in Kashmir than the entire Indian media put together. This should be a matter of shame for us on two counts: first, what it says about Kashmir, and second, what it says about the Indian media.
If journalism is an enquiry into truth, the Indian media has failed to do its duty in Kashmir in the best of times. In India, nationalism takes precedence over the ugly truth. And these are not the best of times.
The foreign media’s reporting on Kashmir should be a wake-up call for us. It should move us to action, make media organisations send more reporters to Kashmir and ask tougher questions to the Modi government. How long can the government keep 8 million people under lockdown just to prove that a disastrous political decision isn’t creating any problems?
The foreign media is challenging the Modi government’s claim of normalcy in Kashmir, whereas the Indian media is largely trying to be the government’s mouthpiece. No wonder the foreign media has not been allowed entry into the Valley, the sort of thing that non-democracies like China do. It is when governments want to hide subjugation of their own people that they put a no entry barrier for foreign media.
Instead of being shamed into action, India is busy being offended by the foreign press. This is a sign of denial. When the truth is too inconvenient, shoot the messenger.
Reports by BBC, Washington Post and NYT cleverly manipulated facts to present a picture far from reality in Kashmir
Snehesh Alex Philip
Senior associate editor, ThePrint
India should not be offended, but has every right to be perturbed and upset with the way the BBC, TheWashington Post and The New York Times have covered the Kashmir issue.
Many of the reports that appeared in these publications came out as completely one-sided and agenda-driven. The reports are not outlandishly lying, but have cleverly manipulated facts and words to present a picture that is far from the reality on ground.
The whole issue started with the “exclusive” video of the Saura protests that was released by the BBC. It was very stupid of the Modi government to outright reject news that protests had taken place.
The video was either spliced by locals and given to the media agency or the BBC itself spliced the snippets together.
The video interestingly has the bursting sound of light machine gun being used, something that was never used by the security forces to counter the violent mob carrying sticks, and posters of internationally banned terror groups. This clearly means that the sound was fabricated and later added to the video to paint a darker picture of the situation in Kashmir.
A common thread among all the reports from the international media agencies is the fact that the alleged eye-witness accounts blaming security forces for “torture” and open firing without any provocation becomes the centre point.
Another report that mentioned juveniles being taken into custody by the security forces does not mention the fact that they were stone pelters.
The reports ignore the basic principle of journalism of double-checking versions of the same story and hence are seen as agenda-driven.
Modi govt won’t be able to prove international media wrong on their coverage of Kashmir
Diplomacy editor, ThePrint
Instead of being offended, India should try and prove that the coverage done by the international media of Jammu and Kashmir is incorrect. But, in all probability, it will not be able to do so. Reporters around the world are supposed to report objectively, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like Kashmir’s. Each report on Kashmir published or broadcasted by the BBC, The Washington Post or The New York Times has beenvalidated with substantial anecdotal evidence, quotes as well as photographs.
It is also true that reporters and journalists from many Indian media houses, including ThePrint, have gone there and reported on the plight of Kashmiris who continue to be under lockdown. It is high time normalcy is restored in the Valley so that one can buy a pack of bread and milk without the fear of being detained and children can go to school.
The Modi government is proud of the fact that it has prevented any casualty, but the question is, for how long will it be able to contain this? It is human nature that the more one suppresses someone, the more that person turns rebellious. This is going to become dangerous in Kashmir’s case if the government doesn’t do anything to relax its repression on the people. It needs to be recalled here that during the peak of militancy and unrest in the Valley, be it in 1986, 1990, 2010 or 2016, suppressing people and enforcing long curfews did nothing to bring long-lasting peace. This, if anything else, is giving more ammunition to Pakistan to ratchet opinion against India.
Foreign media reports have their own flaws, but Indian media’s coverage problematic too
India should not be offended by what the West is saying about Kashmir. News outlets like the BBC, TheWashington Post and The New York Times will bring their own angularities to the coverage: from referring to Kashmir as Indian-administered Kashmir — which is a travesty of history given that the erstwhile state acceded to India — to playing up Pakistani mischief-making as “solidarity” with their “Kashmiri brothers and sisters”.
What India should be offended by is the way the Indian media is covering the issue. In cases like this, where most media houses act like cheerleaders of the government, it is only natural that people will turn to other news sources. It is not anti-national to show the anguish of Kashmiris over losing their special status. It is not unpatriotic to report on the angst sparked by a clampdown on communication. The media’s biggest responsibility is to stand by truth, uphold justice and protect civil liberties. And if the Indian media continues to ignore these principles, then it will not only lose relevance, but also credibility. Instead of blindly toeing the line of the current establishment, the media owes it to itself to show the reality — no matter how harsh and uncomfortable — and should not have a role in creating yet another generation of alienated Kashmiris. Otherwise, as in the rah-rah reportage on the economy, which is increasingly turning realistic and is acknowledging that a recession stares us in the face, the media and eventually the public that depends on it, will also lose trustworthiness.
As the American media has shown, the only fitting response to its demonisation as peddlers of fake news, is to report the news as it is, and as it happens.
Modi govt’s position has been legitimised by fact that average Indians neither care deeply about Kashmiris nor about civil liberties
Authoritarian regimes thrive by manipulating information. The idea is to keep the popular narrative under control and marginalise inconvenient opinions.
In 2019, it has neither been possible for the Indian administration to be authoritarian nor be able to completely control the popular narrative. But the Narendra Modi government has some very strong authoritarian tendencies and has had remarkable success in influencing the popular narrative. So, the Modi government is likely to demonstrate some of the tendencies of an authoritarian regime.
In such regimes, some of the vital sources of ‘inconvenient information’ lie outside the direct control of the state. So, what you witness is a demonising of the external sources of information. Though, under different circumstances, these sources can also be used to legitimise the regime (think of World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’).
Broadly speaking, large sections of the Indian media have echoed Modi government’s position on the revocation of Article 370. They have corroborated government’s claims about the absence of any kind of unrest or protests in Kashmir.
Domestically, the government’s position has been further legitimised by the fact that the average Indian neither cares deeply about the Kashmiri cause nor about basic civil liberties.
Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the Modi government raises hell when foreign press reports on the Indian government’s misgivings about Kashmir.