At a time when Kashmir is witnessing renewed unrest, the need for responsible, honest reporting cannot be over-emphasised. Yet, there is a big question mark over the reporting by electronic news channels, who seem to be overstepping ethics of journalism when covering the Valley.
Most of the privately-owned electronic media have adopted a complete biased approach when it comes reporting about Kashmir. These media houses have joined the bandwagon which outright reject any dissent that goes against what they call as “national interest”.
The renewed unrest
The renewed unrest in Kashmir started on the evening of July 08 when government forces killed the popular militant Commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani at Kokernag in south Kashmir. Some of the electronic news channels were quick to celebrate the death of Burhan Wani by terming it as a major breakthrough in its fight against “terrorism” in Kashmir.
However, in Kashmir the situation was quite the opposite. The killing of Burhan Wani was widely condemned by various groups in Kashmir. Almost the entire Kashmir was out on the streets despite curfew being placed in various districts across Kashmir.
As the protests and killings have continued unabated since July 08, most of the TV channels largely ignored the killings that took place after the death of Wani. Even though, during the initial days the news stories on pellet injuries were reported by some of the media outlets in the country but with the passage of time they also petered out.
For the past three months more than 90 people, mostly youth, have been killed, over 800 people blinded, and more than 16000 injured. More than 7000 people across Kashmir have also been arrested to quell the protests.
However, despite the huge casualities most reports about state that are carried on the news channels are largely giving the official State narrative which doesn’t reflect the ground reality. The biased approached adopted by the media houses have developed a fraught relationship between the national media’s coverage of Kashmir and the situation on the ground.
Abhishek Saha, a journalist working for Hindustan Times in Kashmir sharing his experience writes: “The Kashmir coverage — often look at things only from the perspective of the Indian State and avoid the widespread sentiments or allegations of human rights excesses by security forces — by some television news channels does not go down well with the local populace and many of them perceive that all of the Indian media is feeding a biased narrative about Kashmir.”
• On July 14, India Today TV in an “exclusive” played a video footage in which a youth claiming that separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani paid him Rs 500 to resort to stone pelting and spread mayhem.
However, the next day the boy - Bilal Ahmad Dar- showed in the footage rejected the report. He revealed to the local English Daily Rising Kashmir that it was the footage of 2008 when he had issued that statement when he was tortured by the CRPF men at the gun point.
“I was tortured by CRPF men in 2008 and was told to accuse Geelani sahib in front of a camera. They only left me after I recorded the statement on gun point. My left arm was broken by CRPF men,” Dar said adding “Now, the same video footage was aired on July 14, 2016 by India Today”.
• On July 21, a protest had erupted in remote Gurez region of Kashmir against Zee News for a reports telecasted on July 19 portraying that the people of Gurez were opposed to the continuing unrest in Kashmir.
Angry locals who were protesting had alleged that Zee News reporter had bribed a few local army porters and contractors to record anti-Kashmir statements that too recorded inside a BSF camp which were later telecast.
Local MLA Nazir Ahmad Gurezi blamed the news channel for trying to add fuel to the by running “such stories”.
“They had carried a report showing some persons speaking against Kashmiri people. In the present situation such reports will further deteriorate the situation and add fuel to the fire,” said Gurezi.
• On July 24, Shah Faesal, who became the first Kashmiri to top the civil service exam-IAS and is currently Director of School Education, threatened to resign over some Indian news channels’ “propaganda” in drawing parallels between him and slain Commander Burhan Wani.
During reporting on the ongoing unrest, Times Now, Zee News and NewsX juxtaposed Faesal with Wani, declaring the former a role model for Kashmir’s younger generation.
Faesal threatened to “resign sooner or later” and attacked the electronic channels.
“By juxtaposing my photos with the images of a slain militant commander, a section of the national media has once again fallen back upon its conventional savagery that cashes in on falsehoods, divides people and creates more hatred,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
• On 29 August 2016, Naseer Ahmed, a senior journalist based in Kashmir, resigned from his post at IBN7, a news channel under Network18.
In his resignation, he noted that he had had a “nice experience” during the 23 months for which he had worked with the organisation.
“But during last fifty-two days’ I observed Television journalism in India has taken U- turn and it portrays unnecessary, biased and partial news reports,” he said.
He also added, “Nationalism to some level is fine but when an assistant professor or an ATM guard is being murdered in cold blood by government forces and one can’t report then in my opinion it’s no more journalism, so I have decided to call it a day.”
(The allegation was denied by the TV channel and they gave the reason that Ahmed was asked to resign as he had completely failed to perform his official duties and his journalistic performance was terribly wanting.)
Creating problems for local media
The brunt of the biased approach by the national media has often led to frequent attacks on local journalists in Kashmir.
The people are attacking journalists for being pro-government ‘agents’ and reporting the Kashmir unrest in biased and distorted manner.
In the second week of July, Press TV camera man Aijaz Khan was allegedly taken hostage for a few hours along with other journalists inside SMHS hospital in Srinagar by the attendants of patients believing them to be from mainstream Indian News channels.
“We were let off after elders intervened, otherwise we could have been lynched. The biased reporting of Indian media is creating problems for all those journalists who report reality without any hidden agenda or propaganda,” Aijaz Khan said.
Photo-journalists have been the worst hit. Farooq Javed Khan, President of Kashmir Press Photographers Association (KPPA) says they are always on the frontline to face the wrath of people, accused for “working on behest of the Government”.
“We are being abused, thrashed and many times our equipment’s were broken. Lately, youth in downtown area caught a photographer and broke his lens. There is a great anger among youth against the national media especially against the news channels,” says Khan.
Distortation since 90s
This is not the first time that national news channels have resorted to twisting facts. If we look at the reporting during the 1990s when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir, all the big- shot journalists of New Delhi have carried mostly the army versions in their stories without paying much attention towards the gross-human rights violations in Kashmir.
Daanish Bin Nabi, an Op-ed editor in Rising Kashmir says that right from 1990s the case has been more or less than same.
“Take any issue since 1990s the national media has always taken the issues out of context and reported in a biased manner so as to satisfy their own public and army back home. The two recent examples can be found during the Kashmir Floods of 2014 and the NIIT controversy in 2015. The national media made a Bollywood movie out of both the issues and twisted the truth. The same goes for the 2016 uprising as well,” Daanish says.
Daanish believes that Indian media like in the past always accuses Pakistan for any uprising in Kashmir while hiding the fact what Kashmiris are really protesting agaist and for.
“When it comes to Kashmir, the Indian media has always kept TRP ratings in mind rather than reporting fairly a volatile situation,” he says.
In a sensitive state like Jammu-Kashmir, media plays a pivotal role in reforming the situation on the ground. Resorting to sensationalism, the electronic media often make a small stir in the Valley look like an alarming event threatening national security.
In a cat and mouse race to keep the TRP ratings higher than others, the news channels with their top anchors appear with their coterie of retired army generals and security experts start hitting and vilifying anybody who does not toe the line of their narrative.
Political analyst Gowhar Geelani who has been debating the current uprising on various news channels since the past three months said that as a guest expert his experience has been mixed.
“I found most Hindi news channels rabid, cashing on falsehoods, with provocative and vitriolic commentary and false propaganda. The language their anchors employ while talking to guests is of the lowest standard, their understanding of Kashmir dispute is almost nil, they are high on vitriol and jingoism, and rationale seems missing in absence of any genuine arguments,” Geelani said.
However, Geelani says that on some Hindi channels like Aaj Tak, depending on who is hosting the show, the experience has been good.
“Similarly, I always enjoy attending programmes hosted by Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai, and the young Zakka Jacob of CNN18 network. A big no to Times Now and Zee News,” he added.
Many believe that media houses over the years have created a negative image of Kashmiri people in the country. The practice to see Kashmir through the myopic vision of national security and labelling everyone protesting there on the behest of Pakistan is being questioned by the people of the Valley.
Businessman Mohammad Shakeel says, “For them (media) we are all terrorists or paid agents, who resort to violence either on the direction of pro-freedom leaders or Pakistan for some meagre money. However, that is not the case, Kashmiri people have genuine aspirations but they don’t show that side of a story.”
The failure of national press in India has been to provide a comprehensive perspective about Jammu Kashmir. Such sensation reporting has further alienated Kashmir from mainland India.
Tavleen Singh, veteran Indian journalist, in her book “Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors” writes, “The press was the main reason why the alienation of Kashmir began. The people were sensitive about the way they were being reported in the national press which was deliberately misinterpreting facts and events, making it possible for governments to get away with any short-sighted policy.”
She further adds, “The national press, out of misguided patriotism, has always chosen to tell the national public less than the whole truth about Kashmir.”