“You don’t have any other society where the educated classes are so effectively indoctrinated and controlled by a subtle propaganda system – a private system including media, intellectual opinion forming magazines and the participation of the most highly educated sections of the population. Such people ought to be referred to as “Commissars” – for that is what their essential function is – to set up and maintain a system of doctrines and beliefs which will undermine independent thought and prevent a proper understanding and analysis of national and global institutions, issues, and policies.” — From Language and Politics, Noam Chomsky
In the ‘Need to Know’ versus ‘Want to Know’ debate the media has crossed the boundaries of ethical journalism and has shifted its focus entirely on the TRP game. India is a dominant power in South Asia and has close ties with all nations except with its traditional adversary, Pakistan. Since 2008 onwards Pakistan has not broken the chain of terror related activities to create havoc across the Line of Control and even in the heart of India i.e. Mumbai.
With former Portuguese Prime Minister Guterres now in line for the next Chief of the United Nations, several political analysts believe India will become a permanent member of the Security Council. Membership apart, what has happened recently is that India has carried out surgical strikes across Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) region to wipe out terror camps. China has maintained a diplomatically safe distance. China has put on hold for three months the listing of Jaish-e Mohammad (JEM) Chief Masood Azhar’s as an international terrorist. The Chinese stand on the Uri attack and surgical strike response issue is obvious. The historical escalation dynamics of conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir reveals a very chequered past.
The Indian Media is playing the role of a watchdog passing on minute by minute updates on the escalation dynamics, proudly claiming Pakistan now stands exposed, and that India has won the game. Recently in the Uri attack, 18 Indian soldiers were martyred and in response India carried out surgical strikes. The nation wanted to know what was happening so the DGMO addressed the media and informed the masses about the safe situation.
India’s qualitative shift in its approach towards diplomatic engagements with its traditional adversary was seen when SAARC meeting was postponed with all SAARC nations asking for isolating Pakistan for its continuous proxy wars and terrorist attacks on Indian soil. India has always won the game of escalation dynamics and media reports sometimes declare victory before it is actually achieved on ground.
The problem is that with the commercialisation of media houses and the corporate control on content, it becomes difficult to accept the credibility of news programs and debates. Some seem to be planted; others who report from ground zero tend to exaggerate sporadic events. Notwithstanding the fact that the media is profit driven, we still have ethical war correspondents who pass on factually correct information to the masses.
The media can act as a platform for dialogue between warring factions. It does not always play a negative role in the escalation dynamics of conflict. Sometimes this dialogue is spearheaded by analysts, experts, armchair critics and citizen journalists but moderated by business representatives or anchors who are supposed to maintain a neutral stand but take sides. An interesting twist in the tale is how these media houses are blaming each other for factually incorrect reporting, airing pro Pakistan stories. So much so that a certain section of the media branded as pseudo liberals were accused of taking pro Pakistan side when Indian soldiers were being martyred. Once again there arises a genuine need to control the content that flows through various primetime programs.
The state has to intervene to protect the masses from jingoistic actions and reactions. Press censorship is essential in times of conflict. Unlike the emergency period when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi put a complete stop on the media today we need an institutionalised mechanism to check the outputs of news channels, digital media and the print media to save our masses from getting swayed by false reporting or dramatised recreation of violent acts leading to hatred towards the Pakistani establishment. India’s foreign policy is peace centric. We cannot have the media destroy the social fabric our country in the name of TRP.
*Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, MA, MPHIL (International Relations, Political Science, Development Communication)
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