By Asif Ahmed
Real stories about the military don’t come from public relations officers or official statements. The real stories come from soldiers who go to the frontline – and, the only way to get those stories is to talk to the soldiers.
In an age of instant global communication, governments have refined their public diplomacy, particularly in the way defence issues are covered in the media, to market their version of events effectively to their domestic as well as the international public. Indeed, ignorance and misinformation are far more dangerous for the military than is informed reporting, however critical in tone. But the media need help here. Because the press is fragmented, competitive, sometimes ignorant of military realities, and constantly whiplashed between the demands of the market and those of journalistic ethics, however defined, the quality of coverage of military events is inevitably uneven at best. The tendency of unprepared reporters, charging from crisis to crisis, unaware of the issues at stake or of how the military functions, is to frame complex matters in simplistic ways. For its part, the military owes access to information both to media and the Indian people. Furthermore, it needs to get its story out—for the military will be competing with other groups, and enemies, eager to put their “spin” on events. To do this, it needs the media.
What is in it?
Defence and war stories can be complex, with even the basics such as appropriate language, ranks and regiments posing challenges to accurate reporting. Just as there are specialist financial, sports and showbusiness journalists reporting on their respective fields, there are also Defence journalists.
Though the days of national newspapers each having an ‘defence correspondent’ are over – there are still opportunities for budding writers with defence and security magazines and online defence news sites. There is also some crossover from defence journalists and travel/transport journalists who also may cover defence and security matters on their beat. Reporting conflict requires a sound knowledge of the subject and good contacts to interpret complex stories. Get the basics right, such as appropriate language, ranks and regiments.
How to become a Defence Journalist in India
The best way to become a military journalist is to earn a college degree in journalism, Defence studies, International relations, Military history, various languages or related fields as students have options to choose various subjects while doing their graduation in India. You will be required to work on military bases, sometimes in foreign countries, in order to perform the job duties required, and this may mean you are in harm’s way in a war zone or other conflict area. You will need to prepare yourself to become a military journalist by knowing and understanding the risks involved, and being open to frequent travel.
It will also be necessary to become familiar with any military rules and regulations regarding the publishing and distribution of materials to troops or outside media outlets. So it helps to have exemplary grades in high school English or other languages; participating in the publication of school newspapers is helpful as well. If you have some college experience or have already earned a degree, be sure to make this known to your superiors. You can make yourself a more valuable candidate to become a military journalist by familiarizing yourself with the common equipment used by such journalists. If you have photography or videography experience, this will certainly help your qualifications and you are likely to be considered more seriously for a position. Become proficient in the use of word processing programs as well as other software you are likely to use on the job.
What does it involve?
The day-to-day job involves interviewing, researching and writing up news and features on defence subjects. It involves being a news junkie and wanting to keep up with the latest developments in defence. These days’ digital and online media are becoming more and more important, and an defence journalist today must know how to exploit the latest in social media such as Twitter, and might, for example, have to upload HD camera footage themselves to Youtube.
The job also can include a lot of foreign travel,conducting interviews, covering major defence shows/exhibitions such as International Defence Exhibition, Defence expo, Naval expo, Aerospace expo, Weapons Expo, Military & Defence Exhibitions worldwide as well as press trips to various Indian DRDO,DPSUs, ISRO, aircraft factories, labs, nuclear installlations or airbases. Occasionally you may also get an exclusive media flight on an aircraft to report on – such as in the back seat of a MiG-29 or may be in an APC or in a Tank. The drawbacks are that the job is not at the top end of salary scales in India yet but growing as an emerging field. It also involves unsocial hours where you may be travelling away from home and family. Finally, whether you are working on a monthly, weekly or online, it involves constant deadlines.
We still had long conversations about embedded journalism and the dangers of war correspondence — such as dealing with PTSD, getting injured and even dying at the frontlines. Covering war can be a noble task. It can be exciting. It can be surprising. It can be dangerous with really grave consequences. I learnt that while it can be a rewarding job, it is a very serious job. It is not something that should be entered into lightly or uninformed.
But is it really propaganda to exercise caution, and make sure the good news gets out with the bad? Military journalists inform the public of events and ideas they might otherwise never hear and counteract the effects of enemy propaganda. Embedded civilian journalists, though vital storytellers are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing inside information and, more importantly, understanding the troops’ perspectives. Journalists within the military in some foreign countries are better able to give voice to the daily lives of their brothers- and sisters-in-arms, delivering the difficult facts without losing sight of the good news (how often do you see that on the 11 o’clock news?).
That makes it all the more imperative for building greater harmony and understanding between journalists and armed forces. The defence forces will keep shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t realize the potentials of media as a force multiplier and a weapon of war. Failure to recognize and counter enemy usage of media could lead to avoidable military failures. We must realize that decisions are no longer based on events but on how the events are presented. So we must lay greater emphasis on the role of media/journalists in war and train them for it in peacetime. They provide a vital service to the troops themselves, keeping them informed and entertained in every clime and place. And let’s face facts: It sure wouldn’t hurt your resume to land a job right out of high school that lets you reach an audience of millions, would it?
Defence stories are often complex for those with no military background. And sometimes journalists are liable to confusion over the basics – for example: ranks, regiments, military structure, funding and responsibilities. A Indian defence analysts should sheds light on several questions of national importance — how India is modernising its armed forces? Why is India not able to develop enough technology in defence sector? India imports 70 per cent and exports 30 percent of weapons / ammunitions — how can we reverse the ratio? An Indian defence journalist work included sifting through all international treaties, press releases, parliamentary reports, journals, and interviewed nuclear scientists, bureaucrats and ambassadors across the world.
Need of the hour to introduce specialize courses besides a few options available in Defence and Strategic Studies Departments
There is a strong need to introduce a specialized course in defence journalism in India. A course which includes a combination of media-military theory in a classroom setting, coupled with field visits to armed forces regular force and reserve units. The goal is to enhance the military education of Indian journalists who will report on the issues facing the Indian armed Forces and their activities domestically and abroad.
There are only few universities in India in which Department of Defence and strategic Studies offered as a specialized paper or in Practicals on Defence journalism in options at graduation and post graduation level. Pune University offered this course in choosen options in Bsc as two optional paper of Military and Media, Defence Journalism and National Security and in Msc as a optional paper of Defence Journalism in Defence and strategic Studies course. THIRUVALLUVAR UNIVERSITY offered this course in B.A. Defence and strategic Studies as a paper under the name of Basics of Defence Journalism as a Skill based Subject. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar University Agra offered the subject in B.Sc. Defence and strategic Studies as a practical paper under the name of Journalism and rescue.
Budelkhand University Jhansi offered the subject in BA/B.Sc. Defence and strategic Studies as a practical paper under the name of Strategic Defence Journalism. Post graduate Diploma in defence journalism was available in Guru Jambheshwar University, Haryana some years ago but currently not offered as not shown in the university website. Other alternates that can be considered are choosing journalism and mass communication and defence studies in your Graduation degree as optional subjects. Many students doing their Masters in defence and strategic studies and then opted for PG diploma in Mass and communication studies for enhance their knowledge in the field of defence journalism. Defence journalism, though very much a part of modern day journalism, has practically very little literature for reference existed in India and I found only a single book under the title Defence Journalism in India written by Dr Sangeeta Saxsena This book has a unique distinction of being the first book on defence journalism, with special reference to India. Being a book on information and opinion, it analyses the love-hate relationship between the military and the media. Here the media`s point of view in no war, no peace, low intensity conflict areas have been answered.
Defence Correspondents’ Course for Indian Journalists: A Course to Force
The Directorate of Public Relations (DPR) acts as the gatekeeper of information. It is the only authorised channel of communication for disseminating information about the programmes, policies and activities of the Ministry of Defence and all establishments of the MoD including the armed forces. Currently, the Directorate of Public Relations (Defence)—a part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD)—interacts with the media on matters related to defence forces.
Through its civilian and defence services officers spread out through-out the country, it indulges in PR exercises during peacetime.The Directorate of Public Relations (DPR) is the nodal agency for the dissemination of information to the media and the public about the pant event, events, programmes, achievements and major policy decisions of the Ministry, Armed Forces, Inter-Services Organisations and Public Sector Undertakings under the Ministry of Defence. The Directorate with its headquarters in New Delhi and 25 regional offices across the country is responsible for providing media support to ensure wide publicity in the print and the electronic media. It also facilitates media interaction with the leadership and senior officials of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces by conducting regular interviews, press conferences and press tours.
As in the previous years, the Directorate conducted Defence Correspondents’ Course for media persons to enhance their knowledge about Defence matters. The Defence Correspondents’ Course (DCC) is one of the most prestigious courses conducted by the Directorate of Public Relations, Ministry of Defence. Now Defence Correspondents Course DCC is also conducted annually by Directorate of Public Relations (DPR), MoD for journalists from the print and electronic media, to acquaint them with the nuances of the armed forces to help them become specialist Defence journalists. Eminent speakers and Defence experts from the three Services, DRDO and Coast Guard among others will share their expertise and views with the journalists on varied military subjects. Media publicity for the major events is officially arranged by DPR in India. Coverage was also arranged in the form of photographs and news reports for various military exercises and assignments including those abroad. Visits of the Indian Defence Minister and Armed Forces Chiefs abroad and the visits of foreign dignitaries to India were also prominently covered. Major decisions of the Union Cabinet and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) including the Armed Forces were also widely publicized. The DPR also conducts media tours to various places across the country for major events and familiarization of visits. This Directorate also arranges all media facilities related to the Republic Day Celebrations and brings out a commentary for the parade on the Rajpath. Other important calendar events such as the Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, Combined Commanders’ Conference and NCC Rally addressed by the Prime Minister and Defence Investiture Ceremonies at Rashtrapati Bhawan were also accorded due publicity.
How do I get to be a defence journalist?
A good knowledge of English is vital along with a high standard of grammar and ability to create a readable story. Unlike some other journalism fields, defence journalism involves highly technical information – with an emphasis on accurate facts. A science or an engineering background is therefore useful but not essential. A defence journalist must also have good interview and interpersonal skills – you will be trying to get information out of people. Knowledge of defence and security is extremely helpful too. More important, perhaps, is the ability to analyse, sort and communicate the information you find and decide – which is the most newsworthy/important?
Some tips are: practise your writing. If you are at school or university get involved with the local magazine. Also you could try starting your own blog – frequenting defence forums to get feedback. While blogging may be easy getting a paying job in this field is more difficult – it is a quite small niche sector. However, try writing, emailing or phoning your favourite defence magazines and inquire about internships, jobs or submitting articles. Don’t be worried about rejection the first time. If you have the aptitude, enthusiasm and persist – eventually you will get there. Freelance writing and photography is also a option for defence journalists. A freelance writer is a writer who works on a self-employed basis. They can work for just one magazine or, more often, they write for several different publications at a time. The more diverse a writer can be, the more likely they are to be published and paid for their work.
In short, if you love writing, have a nose for security news, have a passion for defence and like to travel, then defence journalism may be just for you!