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BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Media Practice | 01/08/2017
In the guise of debate, Kashmiris are being subjected to vilification, venom, and finger-wagging by jingoistic anchors. Some are saying ‘no thank you’.
MOAZUM MOHAMMAD reports

A programme on Kashmir on Republic TV 

 

Srinagar: It’s quite a feat that the jingoistic, anti-Kashmiri propaganda being spewed out by some news channels has brought rival Kashmiri politicians together in shared outrage.

Chief Minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, Hurriyat Conference Chairman, Syed Ali Geelani, and the National Conference, though holding divergent ideologies, have blamed the channels for spreading hatred and urged them to stop. The J&K government has felt compelled to say it will counter the misinformation campaign unleashed by the news channels.

Another effect is that the propaganda has prompted some political leaders to stay away from the debates. PDP youth president, Waheed Ur Rehman, refuses to attend the shows. National Conference  spokesperson, Junaid Azim Mattu, who was a known face in  prime time debates, said he now declines invitations.   

“I am very reluctant to participate in debates because of jingoism. It is an institutional effort to humiliate Kashmiris and sell humiliation as military nationalism. Humiliating a Kashmiri always has social sanctity. Now humiliating Kashmiris has political rewards too,” Mattu told the Hoot.

The Indian mainstream media, he believes, has crossed all limits of “sanity” and has almost turned “insane”.  Mattu accuses the channels of alienating Kashmiris more than a thousand militants and dozens of Hurriyat Conferences could ever do.  

"I am very reluctant to participate in debates because of jingoism"

 

“We are answerable to the people as we derive our strength from them. We don’t derive our strength from Rahul Shivshankar (Times Now) or Arnab Goswami (Republic World),” said Mattu.  

 

The cause of the indignation is scenes such as the following:

  • Panelist Major Gaurav Arya expressing bafflement at why Kashmiris don’t die of hunger despite long shutdowns. “Half of the time Kashmir is under bandh/lockdown. Half the time they are pelting stones, phir bhi koi malnutrition ka case nahain, phir bhi koi farmer suicide nai hain (yet there is no case of malnutrition and no farmer suicide),” said Arya on Republic World, with Goswami calling it a “rational argument”.
  • Arya again: “Sab ke gaal aise laal laal gulabhi ho rakhe hain wahan pe (Everyone has these red cheeks, pink cheeks)…I want to understand where is this money coming from? …You need food to get that energy to throw rocks? Who is funding them?” ().
  • A News18 anchor twice telling Jammu & Kashmir legislator Engineer Rashid, “lanaat hain aap par’’ (you are damned)” after the former shouted at him and abused him.
  • Goswami peddling lies by announcing that the Hizbul Mujahideen killed “thousands of Kashmiri Pandits” in the Valley in the 1990s when the fact  remains that 219 Pandits have been killed in the last three decades of armed conflict, according to the Jammu & Kashmir government. 
  • BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra shouting at fellow Kashmiri panelist Babar Qadri: “I request the Indian army, when floods hit Kashmir next time, don’t save this gadaar. Is ko behne dena…jaake Pakistan ke kise gande naale me milega (he should be drowned…he should be found in some gutter in Pakistan.”) It’s true that Qadri, except for his grin and noise, has nothing to offer, but still?  

 

The PDP-led government has asked the channels several times to stop this negative campaign but PDP youth president, Waheed Ur Rehman, said they were told it is to do with TRPs.  “We have talked to almost all the editors. They are doing it for TRPs. Journalism should prevail over activism in the channels. It may suit them at a national level. They want to portray Kashmiris as radical extremists, which is not true,” he said.

"BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra shouting at fellow Kashmiri panelist Babar Qadri: “I request the Indian army, when floods hit Kashmir next time, don’t save this gadaar"

 

Going further, Waheed accused the channels of having “dehumanized” the youth of Kashmir and pointed out that more violence takes place in other parts of the country but this does not get much airtime.

“There are more deaths in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra. There are rapes, molestations, everything happening in the country. If you look at the crime index of the National Crimes Bureau, you see the level of violence taking place in every state of the country,” said Waheed. “It is abusive to be on these channels. It is better to stay away. There is no discussion or debate. They have a mindset and want our reaction. We don’t want to be part of a counter reaction.”

It is not politicians alone who feel this way. Srinagar-based journalists working for the national media say they too feel “insulted” on watching the shows as lies and falsehoods are peddled to garner more eyeballs. 

A senior TV journalist described the debates as “theatre of the absurd”. Another said: “Even we are facing problems because of our channels. What can you expect from people who are being abused on the channels for which we work?”

News anchors show the middle finger to anyone who does not agree with them on booting out Kashmir’s anti-nationals to Pakistan or using more force to crush protests.  No standard journalism parameter is applied for inviting panelists; strong vocal chords and the ability to provoke, divide, abuse and, of course, agree with the anchor is all that’s required to get an invitation.

With more people rejecting invitations, a journalist with a news channel said it was becoming difficult to get panelists from Kashmir. “Now those who accept invites either are doing it for monetary considerations or publicity,” he told The Hoot. 

Journalist Gowhar Geelani, one of the prominent faces on news channels since 2013, said he is quite selective about choosing which debates to appear on. He has vetoed three channels. Geelani agrees that a section of people in the Valley are averse to Kashmiris participating in the debates.

“But if our man does not go there, they (channels) will find any dumb cattle to represent us. My audience is not panelists but Indian civil society and people outside India who are interested in knowing about the ground reality,’ said Geelani.  

Another journalist who appears in debates, Majid Hyderi, makes a similar point. “Such much-needed news debates make the world know more and more about the Kashmir issue and the need to resolve the problem for sustainable peace in the subcontinent. And if you get space on such globally-watched platforms, why shouldn’t you utilize it to raise your voice for your land and fellow people, and tell your story, to let the world know the reality?’’ he asked.   

However, Srinagar-based Pioneer journalist, Khursheed Wani, disagrees, saying that Kashmiri panelists should shun the debates because they are always shouted down. “That way, the channels may revisit their policy,” he said.

Shahnawaz Khan, a correspondent for Free Speech Radio News, called the debates “lynch-fests”. He said: “TRP-driven hatemongering shows spread and create hatred and amplify biases”.  

The occasional foreign guest has been taken aback at the venomous atmosphere. On July 20, Deputy Director Asia Programme and South Asia Senior Associate at the Wilson Centre,  Michael Kugelman, tweeted, “I was just on an Indian TV show where the anchor and another guest told each other (I think) to “shut up” multiple times. Ear muff, please!”

To this, Indian Express senior journalist Nirupama Subramanian replied, “Did no one advise you against going on these shows?” Kugelman tweeted back: “Indeed but I quite like it. The bellicosity and bombast makes for good theatre :)”.   

‘Good theatre’ maybe, but bad journalism. At stake is not only these channels’ credibility, but the credibility of the profession too. 

 

 

Moazum Mohammad is a journalist based in Srinagar. He tweets @moazum_m

 

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