Indo-Pak journalists call for restraint

Senior Indian and Pakistani journalists on Wednesday called for restraint while reporting on India-Pakistan affairs, urging their colleagues to avoid jingoistic press coverage, reports

The journalists were attending a seminar organised by the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP), in association with German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), on ‘Is Media Jingoism Fanning Indo-Pak Tensions?’ The conference, however, was briefly interrupted by a group of ultra-Hindu nationalist Sri Ram Sena activists, who protested the alleged criticism of the Indian media by Pakistani scribes. Ten people sitting inside the main auditorium started clapping and shouting slogans against Pakistan when Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Khan Yusufzai referred to an article that suggested India should attack Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks. However, security personnel and journalists intervened and the protesters were escorted out of the hall without incident.

Ground situation: Objecting to the premise that media was to blame for the jingoistic tone of media coverage, noted Indian journalist Bharat Bhushan said the media merely reflects the ground situation, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Rightwing journalist Swapan Dasgupta dismissed the suggestion that nationalism should not play a part in reporting. He said the media had a very limited role in shaping India-Pakistan discourse. However, Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy disagreed with his views. She said the Indian Supreme Court had sentenced Muhammad Afzal Guru to death to “satisfy the collective conscience of society”, despite admitting that there was no proof of his being a member of any terrorist organisation. She said the media had cultivated this collective conscience, affecting the nation’s highest legal authority.

Roy asked the media to probe the reasons behind people turning to violence to solve their problems. She warned that the situation in Indian hinterland, such as Dantewada in Central India, was becoming another Sierra Leone.

Intelligence restriction: Pakistani journalist Saeed Minhas of Aaj Kal, meanwhile, lamented that Pakistani news channels were banned in India and vice versa. He said the two nations should be exposed to each other’s media to better understand the issues facing their neighbouring country. Senior Pakistani journalist Yusufzai lamented that media had to depend on intelligence agencies while reporting on terrorism, adding that this allowed the state agencies to “plant stories”.

Nirupama Subramanyam, The Hindu correspondent in Islamabad, asked the media to work towards improving Indo-Pak relations. She asked the Indian media to show more sensitivity while reporting events in Pakistan. However, she added, good relations between India and Pakistan were impossible while the democratic government remained subservient to the national security ideology. Meanwhile, QWS Naqvi, director of India’s news channel ‘Aajtak’, asked media professionals to look beyond India-Pakistan and examine the media’s changing role in society. He said the media has a tendency to become emotionally charged with regards to both positive and negative situations.

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