“All this trouble from a matchbox like this.” — Hosni Mubarak, erstwhile President of Egypt, upon touring Al Jazeera Headquarters in Doha, Qatar, in Spring 2000
Does the Media play a Purposive, Pragmatic and Positive role in transforming mental constructs regarding the conflict in J&K or does it act as a tool for a new age psychological warfare?
With the recent killing of 22 Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative Burhan Wani and the clampdown on media in Kashmir following widespread violence, it is critical that we must now dissect the dynamics and various paradigms of Media’s role in escalating and de-escalating conflict and this also entails the development of a common ground to understand universally accepted basic academic perceptions, theories revolving around the increasing power of media in contemporary times, both domestic and international, with a comparative perspective. To understand political ideologies, processes, decision-making political institutions, war strategies and functioning of a nation in times of conflict and peace , in- depth knowledge about the socio-economic and historical background which provides a support structure on which new trends in conflict reporting are further analysed, becomes necessary.
What made Wani a hero or a poster boy of terrorism in the valley was the pivotal role of Media in determining the conduct of governments, laws governing the masses and explaining political formulae such as national welfare, national security, conflict resolution, transformation and peace building etc. Wani posing with weapons and posting images on social networks was a clear indication that something was not right in the way he looked at the world around him. Hashtags and retweets in support of Wani created a new undercurrent in the field of violence that could not be controlled.
Most of the available literature on Media and Media intervention in conflict as well as peace revolves around the implications of “info-attacks” i.e disinformation, psychological disillusionment and propaganda stories ,campaigns which may or may not lead to conflict and also which may or may not lead to resolution of conflict and transformation of post-conflict societies.
It was essentially this info attack through digitisation and the internet , that coaxed Wani to pick up arms. The establishment in Kashmir imposed a three-day ban on the media to tackle possible episodes of violent protest. Silencing the media is not the way forward.
The way forward
In a world where news is just 140 characters away , one simply cannot trust what is being posted online or reported from a newsroom. Gone are the days when news was restricted to a half an hour slot in between the evening movie screening on our national channel. The breaking news formula reached new heights with the mushrooming of news channels and spread on the Internet from 2005 onwards. The mad race for increased TRP s forced once ethical journalists to now report on just anything and everything under the sun.
Media discourses have undergone discernible changes in the last few decades and with changing global political order, wars, natural calamities and political mobilisation a fresh approach towards understanding the functioning of Media in times of conflict and peace becomes inevitable. Equally, the need of the hour is to remember that an arbitration by juxtaposed media, however well meaning may serve to aggravate situations, inflame passions and therefore subvert or frustrate conflict resolution measures.
In all intents and purposes the mushrooming of 24×7 News Channels , widespread use of the world wide web and the rise of Social Media platforms recently have redefined the mental constructs that helped us to understand the functioning of Global political order especially in times of Conflict and Peace. The effect of a strongly linked, cosmopolitan and international neighbourhood owing to superior access to all forms of media may not necessarily be a positive aspect; ideologies, identities, territorial integrities, and indeed the very concept of nation states may be challenged by perceptions of global institutions percolating via the Media.
Access to 24×7 real-time information through diverse media forms and their ability to mould perceptions have forced a reevaluation by governments, international businesses and even non-state actors to view the heightened role of the Media in the shaping of conflict. Time and Space are two distinct variables in communication studies that have aided paradigm changes in existing theories and questions that have already been answered but need a fresh perspective that can solve key issues which affect the socio-political environment in contemporary times. With real-time broadcasting of on-ground events our perceptions about the world around us have undergone significant changes. One of the sterling examples of this was demonstrated during the 9/11 attacks on the American mainland; raw ability to transpose events as they unfolded into people’s homes was on evidence, giving a perspective not seen hitherto fore. The Arab Spring is another example which shows how digitization has changed the way we look at social and political structures across the globe today.
It has been widely debated that the Media is prone as well as responsive to influences wielded by governments because of their inherent need to access corridors of power. Contrarily it has also been argued that governments are vulnerable and inclined to pressures by commercial media, due to their widespread reach and their ravenous yearning to connect with the masses.Eminent Political philosopher Aristotle had said that man is by nature a social animal and therefore the relationship that thus develops between man and the state becomes an important subject matter of research; ultimate aim of that defining relationship being welfare and happiness.
Welfare and happiness have taken a backseat and voices all across the media community have elicited the response that it is war or conflict that makes news and not peace. This bias is evident from the way our production teams shift focus on violence being recorded on camera even though it may be just one sporadic incident. Haven’t all of us witnessed the changes in existing media landscape and have been affected by what the newsrooms, internet and the newspapers want us to know?
Wani having an access to social media clearly calls for a deeper introspection on the dangers of having unlimited access to images and Videos without any control on the content by any establishment. Therefore it is the media which can act as a damage control tool by highlighting both sides of the story involving the Valley.
One simply cannot choose violence over peaceful dialogue and blow it out of proportion for higher television ratings. This marks the end of ethical journalism and end of civil society. The solution does not revolve around political powerhouses or the military bases in the valley or in clampdowns, like the recent 3-day ban on local media in Kashmir. Newsrooms and classrooms can serve as the larger cauldron from which pragmatic positive and purposive dialogues can emerge.
*Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, MPHIL (International Relations, Political Science), MA (Politics, International Relations, Mass Communication)