Right from the start of the present popular movement launched by Kashmiris in 1990, the Indian media has tried its best to paint it as a Muslim fundamentalist/terrorist rebellion by a small section of the population at the behest of the forces from across the border. There has been a consistent effort by certain quarters to cloud everything under the guise of cross-border terrorism. A hype is created every time there is some incident and the blame is put on Pakistan and its intelligence organisation, the dreaded ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) which has been given a larger than life form. No doubt Pakistan has plenty of problems including rogue elements in its security apparatus but why should Kashmiris come in for direct blame for every action of Pakistanis? Certain sections of Indian media especially the electronic one have made it their policy to twist every news item emanating from the valley. Behind every incident in Kashmir they see a foreign hand. On one hand they indulge in even media trials involving Kashmiris in some odd incident while as on the other hand they completely black out or even grossly distort serious human rights violations committed by the security forces. Some of the anchors in TV channels not only take on the role of foreign and home ministries but put words in the mouths of the people they are interviewing. Often the interviews are slanted and results of investigations are given out even before these have been formally started. Even some of the reporters of certain agencies in Kashmir are forced to file stories as per the wishes of the editors thereby giving a go by to objective reporting. Sometimes the genuine stories filed by local correspondents of the outside agencies are just thrown into dustbin. If all the media channels report happenings in Kashmir objectively it would help educating the general masses in India about the ground reality. The biased news makes them totally prejudiced about Kashmiris. A general impression gets created that all Kashmiris are Pakistani agents and are anti-Indian. Not only does a section of the media tell lies about Kashmir but they repeat it so often that a common man in India starts believing it to be true!
A large number of people who have been visiting Kashmir in recent times have observed that the media has painted a totally distorted picture of Kashmir as well as Kashmiris. While as incidents involving militants are highlighted and sometimes covered live for days, the violations of human rights committed by the security forces are suppressed and even distorted and presented as acts of bravery. They never like to paint the security forces in bad light as according to them it lowers the morale of the forces. It is also against “National interest”! However, there are some honest and bold human rights activists and journalists who call a spade a spade. Arundithi Roy, Gautam Navlakha, and Prem Shankar Jha are shining examples of these. In contrast there are some columnists who call themselves “Great” but are in fact very small in their outlook. They distort things to the extreme. This is especially true of some journalists belonging to the minority community. They go an extra mile in misreporting and distorting the truth to only affirm their so called loyalty to the establishment. There are some typical examples which show the doubt and distortion created by the media in suppressing the truth. The mass rape of Kunan Poshpora and the massacre of Chittisinghpora are again two stark examples. In the former case some top journalists gave a clean chit to the forces. In the latter one, in spite of the guilty being identified and charged, the media suppressed the truth. Even Bill Clinton in his forward to Madeline Albright’s book clearly mentioned that the massacre was perpetrated by Hindu fanatics. There are so many other cases where truth has been distorted to suit the so called “National interest”.
This distortion of real news does not help anyone. It neither protects the so called “National interest” nor does it deceive the world at large. It only helps the media in keeping the masses in India in total darkness. These days with the information technology revolution it is virtually impossible to hide the truth. The mass upsurge in the valley last year during the Amarnath land controversy and the economic blockade forcing Kashmiris to march towards the line of control are vivid examples of global news coverage in the age of satellite communications and internet. Y-Tube carried more dramatic visual stories put up everyday by Kashmiris all over the world than were filed by the media. The most recent example of media suppression is the Shopian incident. The town has been under complete shutdown for more than 20 days and there is hardly any mention in the Indian electronic media. In the start of the agitation for this gruesome incident an electronic channel even tried to cast doubts on the veracity of the incident. If the electronic media had given even 1% of the footage for reporting the true facts which they gave to Jessica Lal case, the hurt feelings of the affected people may have been assuaged. Unfortunately, the State Government too wants the truth to remain hidden in spite of loud proclamations to locate and punish the culprits. They completely gagged the local channels which were at least keeping the people in general informed about various happenings. So much for the freedom of speech and expression!
It is time for the Indian media stalwarts and the media barons to realise how much damage they are inflicting not only on the true “National interest” of the country but on their own worldwide credibility. Sometimes there are ridiculous situations especially when the Indian media reports return of normalcy and affirmation of faith by Kashmiris in Indian democracy while the foreign media gives a totally contradictory picture. If the media conveys the true picture honestly to the Indian public, it may create an atmosphere for sorting out the basic problem in Kashmir. Last year the media was forced to bring out the real picture because of the scale of the protests with an international coverage and this had even forced some top journalists to remark that Kashmiris should be given “Azadi” if they so badly want it! If the media honestly reports the problems faced by Kashmiris on various counts they will built a strong public opinion in India to give relief to harassed people in the valley. There is no doubt that the Indian public opinion is quite strong and it can make and unmake even the strongest political parties. The recent BJP debacle is a living example of the strength of the Indian public opinion. It will definitely matter if the media truly portrays the feelings of the local people who have always welcomed Indians as tourists and pilgrims. After all it has been amply demonstrated by the behaviour of the local people that they are not against Indian people but only against the State terrorism. The treatment of Amarnath Yatris during last year’s agitation and the recent declarations of all the “Azadi” leaders to treat Indian tourists as guests are a vivid proof that Kashmiris are not communal. They are only asking for their basic rights which have been trampled for a pretty long time. Will the Indian media change its attitude? That is a million dollar question. But they better do it soon if they really cherish the true “National interest” of India!