The arcane and abstruse world of the Military and Media landscape in India is under political and public scanner yet again following reports of reckless handling of the Kashmir violence that erupted after the killing of a Hizb-ul-Mujahidden youth leader, Burhan Wani. In an open letter to the dead militant, Major Gaurav Arya of the Indian Armed Forces heavily attacked the dubious intentions of the youth leader, stating any action by the army was totally called for. A young boy associated with the militant outfit was hunted down by the forces. This is a routine course of action and therefore there is no scope for the forces having gone haywire in their quest to establish peace and security in the valley putting an end to all apprehensions about the ever-increasing monstrous role of the Army in the Valley.
The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act ( PSA) have created a new form of resentment against the forces in the eyes of the common people of the valley. These acts are under scanner for being draconian in nature. However, given the backdrop of the perpetual war like situation in Kashmir, it becomes necessary to analyse the currents and undercurrents in the changing dynamics of the media military relations in India especially in the context of peace keeping and conflict resolution in Kashmir.
Kashmir, since 1947 has been the cynosure of all eyes focussing on South Asia both nationally and internationally. The news worthiness of the ‘K’ question in all deliberations, dialogues with Pakistan cannot ever be underestimated. Certain sections of the media, branded as the Pro Pakistan Lobby and the Pseudo-Liberals are currently being heavily trolled on social networking sites for questioning the intentions of the armed forces in the valley. The Supreme Court of India too has slammed the Indian Media for misinformation and false reporting, for revealing more than is necessary for the sake of sensationalism, jeopardising national security on numerous occasions. Refer to the deliberate revealing of operations and the logistical positioning of the forces by a private news channel when they were involved in the encounter with terrorists at the Pathankot Air Base earlier this year. In the Indian context, the relationship between the media, dissident forces and the military reveals a very disturbing history.
Television Ratings and saleability of news is what drives the media today. There is little regard for what the people want to know and what they should know. Responsibility and Accountability are being sacrificed at the altar of viewership rating points. The business of news is preying upon disturbances , whether social, economic , political or psychological and with advancements in technology and digitisation of the world wide web, the race to become number one news service provider by private companies is getting even murkier.
The media no longer just reports an event. It acts as the judge, jury and executioner, investigating ever aspect of disturbance through the superficial prism of law creating more nuisance for the forces which are known to maintain strict professionalism in dealing with the media. The Directorate of Public Relations, Ministry of Defence, Public Relations Office deals with the media keeping military ethical standards on the forefront at all times. Army Rule 21, Defence Service Regulations has been in place to control any misinformation flowing in the country . The impatient and intrusive reporters in their quest for exclusives often cross the lines of ethics and invariably put the military in the witness box for no rhyme or reason.
Conventionally , the role of the Media was primarily to inform, educate and entertain the masses. Recent trends engulfing the entire spectrum of mass media reveal how the fourth estate is now becoming a parallel government in itself, reporting on issues which sometimes have both political and social ramifications. How the media projects the image of the military is hilarious in itself. The media claims to be this larger than life entity that simply has the godly right to spin stories in the name of public accountability. This hunger for news has often created both monsters and gods and the common people are yet to discover the true side of any story given the short shelf life of yellow journalism today.
The Freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the constitution of India, has often been misused to suit business interests. The oxygen of publicity being supplied to dissident forces, in the quintessential Kashmir valley for example calls for some serious introspection on the part of our media. Is all this necessary? It is not the media’s job to tell the military how they should function. The army through its Public Relations Office is working to project itself as a positive force, a force for the people of India, a force of the people of India, a force by the people of India. The media must not digress from its primary role, to inform.
*Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, MPHI, MA (International Relations, Political Science, Development Communications)