Indian Media on Kashmir: Peddling Govt Lies
“NORMALCY returns to Kashmir,” declares the anchor from the Delhi studio of an English news channel on August 9. The channel’s reporter, parachuted in Srinagar from Delhi, parrots similar lines: “Normalcy is returning to Kashmir…There has been no law and order situation in Kashmir.” It came days after the Narendra Modi government announced its decision on August 5 to scrap the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the constitution and divide the state into two union territories.
Since August 4th night, the Modi government has put Jammu and Kashmir under an unprecedented lockdown – deploying thousands of additional paramilitary forces, putting barbed wires and barricades on roads, restricting movement of people, snapping landline and mobile phones and internet services, and arresting or detaining all senior political leaders. But, “ground reports” by the Indian media largely painted a “normal” picture.
Channel after channel, anchors and reporters repeated the government line of normalcy prevailing in the state – many a time, oblivious to the fact that the accompanying visuals showing deserted roads, closed shops, barbed wires on streets and heavily-manned pickets.
Barring a few exceptions, the Indian media – print, electronic and online – narrated exactly what the government asked them to: The situation was normal; restrictions were being eased gradually; and people in Kashmir Valley were somewhat welcoming of the decisions. Srinagar-based journalists working for local and national media organisations were put under tougher restrictions though. According to a Delhi-based journalist who was in Srinagar during the period, some media persons close to the government were driven around the city and taken on aerial survey of the valley in helicopters.
COVERAGE BY INTERNATIONAL MEDIA
While the Indian media was toeing the government line, international news agency Reuters published a news on August 9 with the headline: “Thousands protest in Indian Kashmir over new status despite clampdown”. According to the report, based on unnamed witnesses, at least 10,000 people staged a protest against the government’s decision in the Soura area in Srinagar and that the police used tear gas and pellets to fight back the protesters. The Modi government, accustomed to a pliable domestic media, tried to intimidate those reporting for international organisations and rejected these reports as “completely fabricated and incorrect”.
“A news report originally published in Reuters and appeared in Dawn claims there was a protest involving 10,000 people in Srinagar. This is completely fabricated and incorrect. There have been a few stray protests in Srinagar/Baramulla and none involved a crowd of more than 20 people,” the spokesperson of the home ministry, headed by BJP president Amit Shah, tweeted on August 9.
The BBC also reported the protest and released a video clip of it with the title: “Tear gas at Kashmir rally India denies happened”.
The BBC stuck to its reporting and said in a statement: “The BBC stands by its journalism and we strongly refute any claims that we have misrepresented events in Kashmir. We are covering the situation impartially and accurately. Like other broadcasters, we are currently operating under severe restrictions in Kashmir but we will continue to report what is happening.”
Subsequently, more and more reports by international media organisations such as Reuters, BBC and AFP rejected the government claim of “normalcy” in Kashmir. Many domestic media outlets, instead of finding out why they failed to reflect the ground situation, questioned the authenticity of the reports by the international organisations.
The home ministry, later on August 13, admitted that there was “widespread unrest” in the Soura area after “miscreants” resorted to “unprovoked stone pelting against law enforcement.”
In the subsequent days, some Indian media organisations, particularly online platforms, made attempts to go beyond the government narrative and report from the ground that is still under heavy restrictions.
The Indian media failed to ask the government if its claim of normalcy in Kashmir was true, why it has not allowed opposition leaders to visit the Valley.
On August 9, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, along with CPI’s D Raja, landed at the Srinagar airport with the purpose of visiting party leaders, including former legislator M Y Tarigami, put under house arrest. They had given prior information to the state administration about their visit, but they were not allowed to enter Kashmir and sent back from the airport. Later, on August 24, a delegation of opposition leaders, including Yechury, Raja and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too was sent back from Srinagar airport.
OWNERSHIP AND ROLE OF MEDIA
It has been over three weeks since the government announced its disastrous decisions on Kashmir, but normalcy eludes the valley and the people are living under an unprecedented crackdown. Oblivious to the ground realities, the Indian media is peddling government lies. The pathetic and subservient role of the media on the Kashmir developments puts the focus back on the media ownership.
According to the Media Ownership Monitor project initiated by Reporters without Borders (RSF), “India is one of the biggest media markets in the world. However, the concentration of ownership of media shows that a handful of people own and control Indian media.” The study notes a significant trend towards concentration and, ultimately, control of content and public opinion. It is not surprising that India ranks an abysmal 140 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index. With the growing corporate monopoly over media, the victim is news. As the government used all means to suppress the news from Kashmir, a Delhi-based journalist said, “for a few of us, it was a struggle with conscience”. For the rest, it seems, it is business as usual.