No shrill blame game in the media

IN Media Practice | 20/08/2008
Overall, the Indian media did not buy the thesis that the ISI was behind the chronic unrest in Kashmir, and Pakistan’s press was too preoccupied with the country’s internal woes to focus much on Kashmir.
SHUBHA SINGH contributes to the Hoot’s Indo-Pak monitoring, with inputs from SEVANTI NINAN

Partly because of the  ongoing peace process and partly on account of Pakistan¿s continuing internal turmoil, Indo-Pak accusations over Kashmir don¿t register the same shrill pitch in the media that they used to even a couple of years ago.  Even as Kashmir has been aflame, the accusations about the ISI¿s hand surfaced briefly, and were highlighted only in passing, not even on the front pages of newspapers. 

 

A qualitative difference in the Indo-Pak media rhetoric on Kashmir, was discernable over the period of six weeks or more than Jammu and Kashmir has been burning.  Thanks to television, it grabbed headlines for a few days when bureaucrats and politicians in both countries made statements.  

 

Given Pakistan¿s continuing internal turmoil, its media and government found little time to up the ante on Kashmir. Such reactions as there were, were voiced only after the firing took lives in the Valley. Dawn carried a front page news report from Jawed Naqvi with the heading ¿Uprising in Kashmir: 12 protestors shot dead¿. Its editorial on August 13 mildly rebuked the Pakistani government for not reacting to the situation in Kashmir, but added that every gain that eases tensions should be appreciated. It said: "As India struggles with its Kashmir woes, the Pakistan government has remained remarkably quiet on this front. This despite the fact that New Delhi has accused Pakistan of LoC violations and warned that the composite dialogue is on shaky ground. In light of this, the statement by a spokesman of the Jammu and Kashmir government predicting cross-LoC trade by October should be welcomed. In fraught times, every small gain in CBMs, that help to ease tensions, should be appreciated."

 

 As the agitation intensified, Pakistani politicians¿ commented on the developments across the border, drawing sharp reactions from the Indian government. On both sides the statements were picked up by the media and reported, creating headlines on "interference" for a few days. The impact was much greater on television than in print.  

 

The flurry of words which the Indian Express described as the "spat between India and Pakistan" generated three statements in quick succession from the spokesperson of the Indian External Affairs Ministry. The spokesperson took note of a Pakistan Senate resolution on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, calling it "gross interference in India¿s internal affairs" and suggesting that "the Senate should attend to issues where it has a locus standi." This was followed by statements on August 12 and 13 reacting to statements from the Pakistani Foreign Minister and the Foreign Office spokesperson, describing Islamabad¿s call for international involvement in Kashmir as "gratitutous and illegal".

 

The Indian and Pakistani newspapers faithfully reported the statements without much commentary and even the editorials did not have the fiery passages that used to colour the edits a few years ago. Indian TV channels gave greater time to the Indian responses to remarks made in Pakistan while the Indian newspapers carried the Ministry of External Affairs statement in a few short paragraphs.

 

One reason for this widely differing level of coverage could be as The Times of India pointed out because "the MEA¿s angry outbursts were made late in the evening against Pakistan¿s statements made early in the morning, making the Indian anger look like an afterthought." The Times News Network added that "Pakistan has kept up the verbal pressure on India on Jammu and Kashmir. Understandably, India has been smarting and certainly a lot of smoke and fire has been belching out of the government, telling off Pakistan exactly where to get off." 

 

While the Indian newspapers did not give much space to the serial statements, the firing along the Line of Control was an issue of greater concern. The Times of India wrote on Aug 12: ¿Despite India asking Pakistan to respect the border ceasefire Pakistan continues to indulge in cross border firing." It further added that there was a growing feeling that the spurt in cross border firings and infiltrations indicated that the Pak army was pushing its ¿Kashmir agenda¿ to regain loss of credibility it had suffered in its counter-terrorism efforts in the North West Frontier Province. Indian Express had a story with the headline: "After exchange of sweets, Pak rockets hit BSF outpost" on August 16. The paper¿s Jammu correspondent, Arun Sharma wrote that "within hours of sending sweets to their Indian counterparts, the Pakistani Rangers allegedly greeted Border Security Force personnel with rockets fired at BSF outposts."

 

However, even this coverage got matter-of-fact display. The reports on firing across the LoC were not played up, and were placed on inside pages. The TOI had a three column report on n inside page on August 12 which said that Pakistan was pushing Kashmir agenda to regain the credibility it lost in the North West Frontier Province. The Indian Express¿s story on firing across the LoC on August 16, after an exchange of sweets, was carried on page 3.

 

The daily protests and demonstrations in Jammu and Kashmir filled the Indian news pages, while the Pakistan newspapers depended on news agencies reports on the agitation in the Valley. The hoary ISI hand in the Jammu and Kashmir developments emerged in an item in the Times of India of August 14 that quoted unnamed intelligence officials saying that ¿the economic blockade is a myth created by Pakistan¿s ISI to project the Hurriyat as true representative of the Kashmiri people.¿ A story was topped by a five-column headline with the query: "Blockade staged to aid ISI cause?¿ and the strapline "Pak Agency Trying To Help Hurriyat Mould Public Opinion In Its Favour". But again the display was not attention getting, the story  was on the top of page 13, its nation page which carried a slug ¿J&K on the boil¿.

 

TOI¿s editorial said: "Here¿s Islamabad trying hard to set up its house in order. A shaky coalition government has little time or energy to open a Kashmir front as it fends of Islamic radicals within and on its northwestern border... For the Pakistani army as well for the ISI, this is an opportunity served on a platter to divert attention – domestic and global – from the country¿s internal problems towards the Kashmir issue once again."  Translation, the Pakistan government is not trying to play the Kashmir card—the army and the ISI on their own are.

 

The same day, Hindustan Times Foreign Editor, Amit Barua wrote in a news analysis: ¿India has scored an own goal in Kashmir¿. "It is our own mess. We can¿t even blame the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate of Pakistan." By firing and killing unarmed protestors on the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad road on Monday, security forces have added fat to the fire raging on the Amarnath land issue in both the Valley and Jammu…. The land issue has again provided separatists in Kashmir and fundamentalists in Jammu a handle to rekindle their constituencies, Barua wrote. This was on a page 10, devoted to news on Kashmir developments, with the headline – ¿A Cascade of Errors¿. Not all of the Indian media was buying the ISI line.

 

Enter Musharraf

 

On August 14, newspapers reported on President Pervez Musharraf¿s much anticipated first appearance after the call to impeach him. The Hindu newspaper¿s correspondent in Islamabad, Nirupama Subramanian writing  on President Musharraf¿s speech in page one, first lead  story focusing on the embattled leader¿s call for reconciliation within Pakistan. She also wrote: "Gen Musharraf¿s short speech also included a condemnation of India for ¿human rights violations¿ in Kashmir and a declaration that ¿Kashmir runs in the blood of every Pakistani." But the story¿s headline was "Musharraf calls for reconciliation.

 

Another report in an inside page referred to government resolution adopted unanimously in the National Assembly that condemned India for the killing of Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and several other Kashmiris by the Indian security forces. The resolution called upon the UN and human rights organisations to use their good offices to urge India to stop atrocities against unarmed civilian Kashmiris. The Indian Express gave President Musharraf¿s reference to India in the speech an across-the-page headline on its foreign page: "Musharraf brings up Kashmir in I-Day speech" But the report was agency, a Press Trust of India story which said: "In an apparent bid to divert attention away from the impending impeachment threat looming over him, President Musharraf condemned ¿human rights violations¿ in Jammu and Kashmir."

 

But on that it played Kashnmir on page one,in a  front page report headlined ¿Midnight protests rock Srinagar¿. This story made a passing reference to Pakistan: ¿Meanwhile, the spat between India and Pakistan over the J&K situation got uglier today after New Delhi issued its third statement in a week, describing Islamabad¿s call for international involvement in Kashmir as "gratuitous and illegal"¿.

 

On August 15, the day after Pakistan¿s Independence Day, the Hindu wrote that Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani "sought to bring down the temperature (between India and Pakistan) with an assurance that his government was committed to resolving all issues with India in a just and peaceful manner through negotiations." Mr Gilani made a reference to Kashmir, which the Hindu characterised as ¿mild and steered clear of the present unrest in the Valley." The Asian Age and the Indian Express reported External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee response to a TV news channel that Pakistan¿s comments on the development in Jammu and Kashmir did not create the right atmosphere to carry on the bilateral dialogue. Both newspapers also said that India had rejected comments made by the secretary general of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) condemning police firing in Kashmir. Times of India¿s headline said: ¿Pranab asks Pak not to meddle in India¿s affairs¿.  

 

On Aug 16, Indian newspapers carried short reports on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh¿s reference to Pakistan in his Independence Day speech. They also wrote about Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani¿s phone call to greet Mr Manmohan Singh on the occasion. The Hindu referred to Mr Manmohan Singh¿s comment during the telephone conversation that both sides should refrain from making harsh statements. In contrast, the Pakistani papers took Mr Manmohan Singh¿s remarks as conveying a more pointed message. The Nation, on Aug 16 had a headline: "Singh warns Pakistan to control terrorism". It said: "Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used his Independence Day speech on Friday to warn Pakistan to rein in terrorism, as peace talks between the two countries falter 61 years after they were divided."

 

 Pak coverage

 

Among Pakistan newspapers The News stuck to agency reports, and The Nation took a slightly harder line than Dawn, overall. And raised the issue of Kashmiri freedom "from the Indian yoke." Its  editorial on August 13 was called: ¿Indian Highhandedness¿ The edit said: "The situation in the disputed Valley seems once again to be deteriorating, the responsibility for which very obviously lies with the government¿s mismanagement. There has been an upsurge of violence against the people by the Indian security forces….. Last month, the Kashmiris were protesting against the illegal transfer of hundreds of acres of land to a Hindu Shrine Board for building structures for Hindu yatrees. The subsequent riots that rocked the Valley were among the biggest in Kashmir¿s history. What the Indian government needs to understand is that its approach towards the issue is basically erroneous. Economic blockade cannot smother the Kashmiris¿ spirit of freedom from the Indian yoke."

 

The next day an editorial in the Nation castigated the Indian security forces. It said: "In an act of ruthless repression, the Indian security forces indiscriminately fired at one of the biggest protest rallies in Held Kashmir¿s history, with participants variously computed between 100,000 and 250,000, and shot down prominent Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz and several others near Uri on Monday…. The blockade has put an end to all trade with the outside world, including that of fruit with which the Valley virtually overflows. That the authorities have not bothered to break it, but let all economic activity in the Valley stifle, suggests their callous attitude towards the people for their ¿sin¿ of agitating for the right to self-determination….The blockade has put an end to all trade with the outside world, including that of fruit with which the Valley virtually overflows. That the authorities have not bothered to break it, but let all economic activity in the Valley stifle, suggests their callous attitude towards the people for their ¿sin¿ of agitating for the right to self-determination."

 

The paper carried a statement by a former Pakistani ambassador and senior aide to the UN Secretary General, that Pakistan should raise its concern on the situation in the Indian Occupied Kashmir at the United Nations. Mr Yusuf Buch, described as an expert on Kashmir, said, "The Prime Minister of Pakistan should immediately contact the Secretary General of the United Nations and, both in conversation on the telephone and in letter which he should ask to be circulated as a document of the Security Council, emphasize that the current situation deserves to be viewed in its human reality and not through the prism of calcified attitudes of inaction stemming from considerations of power politics."

 

Dawn¿s headline on August 15 stated: ¿Widespread protests test India¿s hold on Kashmir¿. It report said: Police shot dead a Muslim protester as huge crowds shouting "we want freedom" took to the streets of occupied Kashmir on Thursday over a land row that is testing New Delhi¿s hold on the troubled Himalayan region.

 

An editorial in  the Dawn newspaper criticized the Pakistani government for backing off from its plans to oppose the nuclear safeguards agreement at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It said: "The Bush administration launched its own campaign to dissuade Pakistan from any effort to thwart the Indo-US game plan… Our ambassador in Washington, too, according to well-informed sources, pitched in, recommending that we do nothing to upset the Bush administration¿s advice and, instead, terminate all efforts to counter the Indo-US move, at both the IAEA and the NSG, which is to meet to consider the US draft to allow nuclear trade with India. To the Foreign Office¿s disappointment, the entire campaign was called off, causing deep dismay at this abject surrender of national interests."

 

 Pakistani newspapers had a large number of developments with Pakistan to report in the last week. On August 14, Dawn had six items on page one detailing militant strikes in Lahore (8 killed), villagers kill six militants, clashes between rival tribes in Kurram agency, 24 killed – militants stop people from leaving Bajaur, six killed 19 injured in Balouchistan attacks. Other stories were Sindh assembly seeks impeachment and ¿Dozens injured in Kashmir protests¿.  The Kashmir story therefore, was an also ran.

 

Television

 

Indian television channels, Times Now in particular, gave more prominence than Indian newspapers did to accusations from across the border. All major channels showed the Ministery of external affairs spokesman reading out his statements referring to Pakistan¿s interference on consecutive days. Given the fact of constant repeat telecasts, the message registered with anyone who tuned in to any of the major satellite and cable news channels.

 

President Musharraf¿s references to India in his speech on the eve of Pakistan¿s independence day played far more effectively across TV channels in India than in the newspapers. Heard and seen they had greater impact than reporting in cold print. His sentences help television news channels flog the "interference" angle for all it was worth. He made an emotional pitch, stating that Kahmir was every in Pakistani¿s "dil ka dhadkan." (heartbeat) and that the killings there were most regrettable.

 

Times Now in particular chose to flog this:" Musharraf is trying to be a Pakistani hero for one last time." Later anchor Arnab Goswami talked of "Open, obvious meddling from across the border" and repeated that description. He dredged up the ISI bogey: "Is the ISI behind the blockade myth?" he asked.

 

In a discussion on NDTV 24x7 however, when asked about the role of Pakistan by anchor Barkha Dutt,  journalist Prem Shankar Jha, a guest on the show, said "Pakistan had nothing to do with what happened  from July onward."

 

 Overall both Hindi and English channels ran President Musharraf¿s statements over several times, not just the first day, but also till the 11 pm bulletin the following night.  Channels kept telling their viewers, "Musharraf raises Kashmir issue."

 

But shortly after came the President¿s resignation, and  the focus turned and stayed, on Pakistan¿s internal problems.

 

 

 

 

 

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