The Indian electronic media has it easy. The Pakistan government allows it to broadcast and telecast live footage from Pakistan. However, the courtesy is not returned by New Delhi. Pakistani broadcasters have to record footage from India before they are telecast back home, and special permission has to be taken from the Indian government for telecasting live from India.
Over the past few years, there has also been mounting disgruntlement amongst leading Pakistani journalists and experts in other fields—‘guests’ at current affairs shows on Indian news television—about how the Indian media contrives to ‘trap’ them into a situation where they rarely get a chance to get their views across. These Pakistani visitors to the hurly-burly of Indian TV ask why an otherwise professional Indian media bursts into a concerted blast of jingoism whenever ‘reporting’ a controversial issue related to India-Pakistan bilateral relations?
Many experts that Outlook approached amidst the virulent tension along the LoC have regularly been contributing to the India media, but admit that, given the recriminatory tone of their callers, they are avoiding telephone calls from New Delhi. While pointing out that some Indian television anchors and print editors stand out for their professionalism, they say such competence is rather the exception.
“When I have argued with the Indian anchors to tone down, they tell me that when temperatures rise in the studios it is good television for them. Often, I have simply banged the phone down or walked out of the studio.”
The tone and tenor of recent Indian TV programmes after the alleged beheading and brutalisation of Indian soldiers by Pakistan army personnel on the Line of Control has shocked Pakistanis. The Indian media, it seems, simply lost its independent character and outdid, in unsavoury recrimination, anything spewed by parties like the Shiv Sena and the BJP. In comparison, South Block and the military spokespersons appeared meek and apologetic.
In a rare move for a PPP minister, Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar praised the Pakistani media for not going overboard on the LoC tension, and said she was ‘proud’ of them.
“What do we see today? We see three incidents across the LoC. We see war-mongering, which puts the last 60 years back into our memory. War-mongering coming in from the other side of the border which is, I thought, a thing of past, something we had put behind us,” Khar said at an event at the Asia Society in New York this week.
“Any criticism of Indian policy is perceived as being dictated by the ISI. Indians fail to realise that Pakistani intelligence agencies do not like Pakistanis to interact with the Indian media. Period. The agencies are not interested in conveying their point of view to India. A Pakistani writing for an Indian publication is bombarded with hate mail and a Pakistani guest is held responsible for all policies of his government as if he or she alone represents 180 million people, and as if he is the director-general of ISI,” he adds.
Peaceniks and members of the liberal intelligentsia feel no different and appear just as fed up. Nusrat Javed, a leading television anchor and columnist, and president of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) says, “Ninety per cent of the time I refuse to comment, because I know the studios were jammed with known hawks. Most senior Pakistani journalists don’t want to respond to their Indian colleagues, even though they have some excellent anchors.” An exasperated Javed says it seems Indian TV anchors forget that his comments are those of a journalist and do not represent the views of the Pakistani state. “I am not the foreign office spokesman,” he says.
“As a Pakistani I am not responsible for all that is wrong here,” Javed says resignedly. “Most of Pakistani mainstream journalists never backed the policies of previous military governments, in fact I have paid a price for it, and have been jailed. So why blame us?”
So discredited is the Indian media in the eyes of prominent journalists here that Javed says he sees that these days its high-octane programmes are left with lesser-known Pakistani journalists and faded personages.
Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary-general of the PML(Q), has just returned from a trip to India and is aghast at the media’s temperament there.
“They have even gone as far as to freely use phrases like ‘Pakistani barbarism’. How can they paint the whole nation as barbaric? There appears to be still a lot of ignorance about Pakistan, a stereotyping of it, and their media contributes to this. There is a close nexus between the Indian media and the Indian government,” he tells Outlook.
“I can say that Gandhi and Nehru were great Indian leaders. But look what happened to Advani, who praised Jinnah. He lost his job as leader of the BJP,” adds Hussain.
Mir concurs: “The reason for this attitude is that Indians feel Pakistan is the enemy. In Pakistan we have moved on, and many label US as the enemy. Some moderate Indians are labelled as Pakistani agents. Jaswant Singh wrote a book on Pakistan and promptly got into trouble.”
Former ISI and MI chief Assad Durrani says he is relieved and happy when not asked to appear. “Except the odd anchor who would be an exception, they turn into hawks for their audience. They will get a couple of experts good at Pakistan-bashing. This one particular person has four or five lines which have served him well for 30 years. They unleash him and he cooks up some story. This is really weird. The nastiest chap will wrap up the show. Programme over, and I do not get a chance to add anything,” he says.
While there might be sections in the media here who would relish a strident slanging match with India’s bold Pak-baiters, Durrani and others represent the concerns of liberal-secular Pakistani journalism, people whom India’s rabid talking heads would do well not to antagonise.
By Mariana Baabar in Islamabad
Arnab Goswami’s channel and most others are in a producer-consumer relationship with their ‘followers’ (Playback Artistes’ Pratfalls). So only the channel and its consumers are allowed freedom of speech, no one else, especially not anyone from horrible Pakistan. So it was with the war-mongering scenario. Heavy bias, no moderation, relentless jingoism in the name of informed opinion. This phenomenon, I believe, is called ‘hyperreality’, well-explained as the ‘authentic fake’. The neo-middle class consumer wants to go to the mall, then to protest against the Delhi police against rape. By afternoon, they want a war so they can live in a delusion of being rich and powerful. Rang de Basanti-style patriotism rules the roost, which means that it is an impulse and not dedication to the nation. So if a farmers’ protest blocks traffic, they want the police to beat them with sticks. The farmers are fair game, the ‘urbanites’ are not. Sigh...I love this nation and I’m going to Facebook right now and like the ‘Burn Pakistan’ page.
Abhishek Prakash, Jaipur
So what you’re saying is regardless of what Pak does, the Indian media and public should not question them.
Rohit Bhalla, Delhi
It’s true, the Indian media goes overboard to satisfy what it thinks the majority wants to hear.
Soumya Saxena, Wachtberg, Germany
Arnab Goswami's programme, the Newshour, is excellent. Arnab has a lot of spirit, sincerity, passion and earnestness all at once. The other comparable shows, on CNN-IBN et al, are okay, but they go overboard trying to be 'objective' or 'secular', when such an approach is not called for. The Newshour is more direct and forceful, and thank goodness for that. We don't want everyone to be exactly like Sagarika Ghose and Rajdeep Sardesai. There's room for variety and divergence, and Arnab Goswami certainly provides that.
Madukar is right, programmes like these reflect the public mood far more than most other programmes. After all Pakistan has done, including hosting Osama Bin Laden and Dawood Ibrahim, it doesn't deserve objectivity and politeness.
Indian TV represents the view of average indians when it comes to Pakistan,they don't sell their soul to cold diplomats and some spin doctors! I think they do much better job than the govt of the day...
None of them can match Arnab though NDTV, CNN-IBN all started this exercise when BJP was ruling the country, now finding itself at the receiving end when no one is watching other than TimesNow because this is the ONLY channel in the english side showing some consistency in neutrality, rest all like Congress puppies including Outlook.
>> "How I miss NPR on radio and PBS on TV."
Still the best sources of news and analysis.
Razzak (Hyderabad) ...
Given your views on Arnab Goswami, which I agree and more, why do you watch it regularly. Wondering what is the redeeming value that may be I miss because I watch it for a bit while flipping channels - I can't stay with it - which is the only way I watch any of the 24x7 new channels.
You say .... " For a lesson, watch BBC or CNN and take a leaf from them."
BBC I agree. CNN of course has matured or mellowed - at least their international service we get to see (not sure of their US service). I see Indian news channel at the level of evolution which CNN was during the 1st gulf war with Wolf Blitzer, blitzing away to make a name for himself and CNN. Unfortunately, for our TV folks the role model appears to be American TV - more Fox and a bit CNN and not BBC. IMHO, 24x7 NDTV is slightly ahead of the pack in maturity but the newer kids on the block - Time Now, Headline Today, CNN-IBN are a bit too much. The Hindi channels of course are a breed apart (may be true for other regional ones too) - I can't even take them seriously - I find them surreal and humorous.
How I miss NPR on radio and PBS on TV. The concept of public funded rather than state funded or corporate/advertisement funded radio and TV is great ..... hope we also can this someday.
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