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.
‘I avoid most requests, for I can’t stoop to the Indian anchors’ level of journalism...they say when tempers rise in the studios, it’s good TV. I’ve also walked out....’
Hamid Mir, Journalist, Geo TV
“In my experience of so many years, I feel only comfortable with Prannoy Roy, who is a very sober anchor, but I generally avoid most of the requests that I get, because I simply cannot stoop to their level of journalism and their provocating manner,” says one of Pakistan’s leading journalists, Hamid Mir, host of the nightly Capital Talk on Geo TV. Mir tells Outlook that he has banged the phone down in the middle of a programme many a time, and has once walked out of a studio during a live transmission.
“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.
‘I refuse mostly, for I know their studios are crowded with known hawks.... They don’t realise I’m a journalist, not representing the Pakistani state.... Why blame us?’
Nusrat Javed, Leading television anchor
Anees Jillani, a senior attorney, is a frequent face on Indian television and occasionally pens an odd column for the Indian print media. “The Indians consider their media to be superior to that of Pakistan. However, when it comes to Indo-Pak relations, most of it appears to be a mouthpiece of the Indian foreign ministry, and seldom deviates from government policy. It creates a hype and then it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to disagree with the hype created by it,” Jillani tells Outlook. He says that due to the Indian media’s overbearing manner and devious spin, every Pakistani appearing on Indian TV or writing for an Indian publication is likely to be seen as an ISI agent.
“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.
‘There still appears to be a lot of ignorance about Pakistan fed by the Indian media. There is a close nexus between them and the Indian establishment.’
Mushahid Hussain Syed, Secretary-General, PML(Q)
Peace activist Tahira Abdullah agrees with Javed. “As it appears to progressive and secular Pakistanis, Indian TV channels have a very limited and objectionable line-up of Pakistani commentators. I find that I’m often teamed up with retired generals (aides to former military dictators, for example) whom no self-respecting Pakistani TV channel would ever care to invite to a show. It appears that Indian TV channels are still stuck in a time warp.”
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