“Why is there so much research about the role of news media in political conflict & war and so little concerning the media & peace?. There is not one major study which has looked at the role of the news media in an ongoing peace process…Even the most casual observer cannot fail to be impressed with the ability of the news media to serve an either constructive or destructive role in the promotion of peace”
General Eisenhower had said that the essence of successful warfare is secrecy; the essence of successful journalism is publicity. We live in an era wherein the fourth estate has become a larger than life entity, moulding perceptions of the viewers, readers, listeners to suit their business interests. Mahatma Gandhi opined that one of the objects of a newspaper is to understand the popular feelings and give expression to it, another is to arouse among people certain desirable sentiments, and the third is fearlessly to express popular defects.
To express popular defects fearlessly has made media a powerful manipulative tool in the hands of corporate houses, using which truth is suppressed and propaganda stories make it to the primetime. If we take a closer look at the ongoing debate around the surgical strikes, the aftermath of Uri Terror attacks we will be able to get a fair amount of idea about how newsrooms have turned into battlefields. The task of a news anchor or reporter is primarily to inform the masses about what is happening in the world they live in. However, news channels today, in the mad race to win the number one position in the TRP game are designing their news programs in a manner which is almost like a 3D version of any event. Dramatic recreation, props, animations, background music are all used to catch the viewers attention.
Let me emphasise yet again that the task of the anchor/journalist is to inform the viewers and maintain a neutral stand on the issue they are reporting on. This however is no longer the case. There has been a pragmatic paradigm shift in the way war reporters’ pitch in their reports today. Some report from the battlefield taking risks, some sit in the studios with eminent speakers moderating debates on national security and defence. As I write this, a local journalist was injured as Pakistan continues to indulge in firing and heavy shelling along the Line of Control. Some are asking for proofs of surgical attacks. So does the credibility of war depend on whether it has been communicated to the world or not?
Every exclusive war reporter in India today wants access to battlefield. The Indian example of Barkha Dutt in Kargil is more than just a story of war reporting gone haywire during the Kargil War in 1999. It is important to note here that Barkha Dutt is probably the only woman in Indian journalistic circles known for her fearless war reporting from conflict zones. That during the Pathankot attacks the Supreme Court asked NDTV, a New Delhi based private news channel to control its content during conflict is another question altogether. Off late we have Shweta Singh from India Today Group who has ventured into the conflict zones but her reports are mostly happy interactions with the soldiers during peace times. There are some army kids too who now proudly present news as though they are the men in uniform themselves. India, being the patriarchal society that it is, does not allow women journalists to enter into conflict zones it seems. This is a sad state of affairs. We have women writing on conflict but being far away from ground zero and depending on “secret sources”, the credibility of the reports by them cannot be established. So why aren’t there many women venturing into the conflict zones in India? Is the risk too high? Is sexual assault a factor? Do women prefer studio jobs? Are men not allowing women to venture into the strategic affairs arena because they feel they know more about war and conflict? Are women made to report only on Peace and Human interest stories?
The above questions are open to subjective interpretation. War reporting is an arduous task and it takes a toll on the mind and the body. The psycho-social implications of conflict reporting are very hard hitting. Bloodshed and violence force a reporter to take sides no matter how much they may try to remain neutral. All classroom teachings of unbiased news reporting goes for a toss when a person sees 18 dead bodies of soldiers or mutilated bodies of soldiers, like it was during the Kargil conflict.
I strongly condemn the way newsrooms have turned into battlefields. Using props and dummy globes the journalists are trying to evoke anti Pakistan sentiments which is not a healthy sign for future diplomatic course of actions with Pakistan. Our traditional adversary never fails to surprise us with terror attacks and proxy wars but what is more disturbing is the way the journalists behave in the newsroom. They scream, they disrespect the soldiers, they call panelists and not let them speak, they feel their curiosity is far more important than getting to the truth and getting their facts correct. Gender bias is obvious. Men take charge even in newsrooms.
With technological advancements and massive increase in the usage of social media platforms more and more women are coming forward and expressing their views on strategic affairs. They may not be skilled reporters but their opinions are capable of giving rise to a new set of debates. Unlike the West, the tug of war between the military and the media is also a major component of the way the military keeps the media away from their operations. Perspectives matter. Unfortunately everyone has an opinion, the soldier, the journalist , the politician and often there is a clash of interest but in this tussle, the journalist wins because he/she has an access to the platform from which information is passed on to the rest of the population. But ultimately it is the 140 characters that make news these days. Skilled journalists cannot be replaced and are here to stay but given the outreach of social media platforms, every citizen is a journalist, every citizen can talk about national security and the government will have to listen. After all it is free speech guaranteed by the constitution of India, free press and democracy i.e government of the people, for the people, by the people. The buck stops here!
*Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, M.A, MPHIL (International Relations,Political Science,Development Communication)