Indo-Pak media perspectives on terror

BY mannika| IN Media Monitoring | 25/11/2005
July showed that the media mindset of both Pakistan and India was to give more coverage to militant/terrorist attacks if they were associated with the west or with Kashmir.

 In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the final part of an analytic series on the  comparative coverage of the same events in India and Pakistan in July. A Panos funded project on the Hoot. 

Mannika Chopra 

If there was one month this year that showcased the mindless violence that typifies the world today it was July, 2005. Within a span of 31 days attacks occurred from London to Egypt, from Kashmir to Ayodhya, from parts of Pakistan to unrelated parts of India. In a way the story shifted from ongoing conflicts to attacks of terror. Public response was that of dismay, shock and ultimately defiance. So during July how did the media of India and Pakistan take stock of this forever war that burst upon a world¿s consciousness? Was there a substantial difference in the methodologies adopted by them in their coverage? Were the definitions of terrorism and militancy interchangeable or mutually acceptable or were they dependent on the geography of datelines? Did the coverage of ¿victims of militancy¿ differ in anyway from coverage of ¿victims of terrorism.¿ Was reportage predicated on how closely impacted a country was or because the location of the attack was high profile?  

This study essentially looks at how some leading Pakistani and Indian news publications covered these events. The publications focused on are The Daily Times; Dawn; The International News also known as The News, The Hindu, The Times of India and The Indian Express. The magazines are Herald, Newsline, India Today and Outlook. The Pakistani Urdu newspapers covered are The Jang and Jasarat. For the most part, the publications were scrutinized through the internet and so accessibility in choosing these specific publications above others was a major consideration. One major disadvantage of using an electronic library rather than a physical one, however, was that it was not always possible to ascertain the positioning of a report and thus gauge its priority. Where it was possible to identify a report¿s location it has been mentioned. Another negative was that though it was possible to scan the main paper, often the feature pages, magazine sections and some cartoons were electronically out of bounds. Although determined insurgency took place in other parts of the world and also India and Pakistan this report basically monitored the coverage/comment of terrorist attacks in London, Egypt, Kashmir, Ayodhya and Bihar.   

Collectively, it seemed that the media of both countries followed a top down, media quickie approach, depending on information or reactions from the establishment police, army, leaders in favour of grass roots, individual type assessment. Individually, a major difference lay in the use of historical-political argument, especially in the Pakistani opinion pages to justify the existence of violence. The media reality then changed somewhat as it crossed borders.  Arguably, the coverage of the serial blasts in London was more dense and detailed in the Pakistani press as compared to the Indian press even though they were by hampered by the lack of their own international correspondents. On the other hand the attacks on Ayodhya chomped through more news space in India.  

While in terms of significance the attack on Ayodhya (July 5) followed by the serial blasts in London (July 7) subsumed the attention and space of news outlets, all through the month occasional reports appeared also on comparatively smaller and therefore less publicized occurrences. For instance, the Pakistani papers on its front and national pages consistently reported on the attempts by the army to hunt for militants/terrorists in the NWFP, Peshawar. Their Indian counterparts, too, reported on the violence prone Moaist and Naxalite network in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.  But in terms of ranking these were not the ¿ vital¿ stories. The charge of the big story often meant that the smaller ones got left behind. 

Beginning chronologically, in a front page report, The News, the English publication of the multi-edition Jang group, reported on gross police negligence (July 1). A report by Azfar-ul-Ashfaque detailed the aftermath of a possible suicide attack on a KFC outlet in Karachi. Six workers died while trying to save the lives of their customers; a tragedy, an anonymous policeman said, could have been avoided had the police had been more alert. Despite the admission it seemed the paper did not do any follow up.  

A few days later, in the same paper, (July 4), in the top stories section, a report by Mohammad Saleh Zaafri sent from Kathmandu showed the kind of information warfare the issue of terrorism elicits. The article quoted Nepalese foreign minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey, who "urged the world community to discourage double standards in dealing with terrorism as no manifestation, or sloganeering could justify it. Talking to a group of journalists from Pakistan here, (he said) without any reference to India, no country should try to export terrorism as the forces of terror sometime caused harm to its perpetrators." It was widely believed, clarified the reporter, that India was supporting the Maoists terror attacks and Maoists were finding safe havens across the border.  

The Daily Times more than the other Pakistani papers showed a broader coverage of the daily skirmishes in Indian Kashmir, though it also displayed the presence of a subtle news agenda. On July 2, the paper, using wire inputs, lead with a report on how a demonstration of the Srinagar based All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) had been ¿baton charged¿ (had this report appeared in India, no doubt, the word used would have been lathi charged) and two of its members arrested. Further down the same article indicated the amount of trauma the Valley faced in one single day, Friday. The toll included two civilian deaths in two separate shootouts; two civilians killed by suspected militants; three policemen injured while their jeep ran over landmine in Anantnag; a civilian shot dead by a militant in Kangan; another killed by an unidentified gunman in a suburb of Srinagar; four members of the central reserve police injured as their vehicle ran over a landmine in near a railway track in Wanpoh, 60 kms from Srinagar. Despite this high toll the main news point was a protest march. 

Amidst the daily roll call of death and mayhem--the following day The Indian Express front paged a report (July 3) on how two ministers from the Jammu and Kashmir state government escaped an attack—were some glimmers of enterprise. It was left to an unnamed staff reporter (¿Joining hands to Defeat Militancy¿/The Hindu/July 3) to feature the prevalence of Village Defense Committees (VDCs) in Kalankote, Rajouri, Jammu. The news feature appearing on the National page said the VDCs, formed to combat extremism also indirectly, also strengthened bonds of secularism as they comprised members of all communities. The same paper carried a more meaningful but relatively underplayed report on its city pages (¿Attracted by Lucre Not Jehad¿/July 4) in which the motivation of jehadis was examined. The news report detailed how debt and money persuaded four recently arrested militants to become conduits of extremist organisations. Essentially an unsentimental progress report of a routine arrest, it failed in its potential to get to the story behind the story.  

July sixth and the big news was the unexpected early morning attack on the makeshift temple at Ayodhya. So much a metaphor for the rise of communal angst the assault raised headlines in both the Pakistani and Indian media. Typically, the tone was much more piercing in Indian newspapers.  Banner headlines appeared in The Times of India. The Express stated, ¿Ayodhya Terror Terminated, Politics Begins¿ with a strap line, ¿5 Terrorists Killed Just 100m from Idols.¿  Even the sober Hindu shouted, ¿Terrorists storm Ayodhya temple¿ and ¿Terrorist attack has hurt Hindu sentiments all over the world.¿  

In terms of reportage, the Express rose to the occasion offering five composite front page reports. Coverage ranged from connecting the dots of the actual attack to the modus operandi (¿Using local license plates, SP flag, how jeep slipped through¿ by Aman Sharma); motivation (¿Why Jaish and Lashkar are prime suspects¿ by Shishir Gupta and Amitav Ranjan) and reactions from the Valley (¿JK Chorus: Peace is the target¿ by Muzamil Jameel).  Without official verification, the paper quoting security men also said in its lead that the attackers had "Kashmiri features¿.  

The Times tended to simplify the attack with a snappy heading (¿Whodunit in Ayodhya¿/ July 6) and somewhat answered the question itself the same day (¿LeT emerging as Al Quaeda¿s successor¿).The double dateline, Srinagar and Delhi, report by Saleem Pandit and Indrani Bagchi  pointed out how the Let cadre, too, like the Al Quaeda preferred death to arrest.  

From across the LoC, Dawn¿s front page coverage by its Delhi correspondent, Jawaid Naqvi, was much more guarded. The tone was set by an element of reservation in the report¿s lead in. "Indian Security forces killed….. six armed men after they apparently tried to raid a makeshift temple." Throughout the 700 word article the men were alternative tagged ¿militants¿, ¿raiders¿, ¿attackers¿, ¿armed men¿  and ¿gunmen¿. It was left to L.K. Advani, the president of the BJP, to use the T word while he was being quoted in the article while referring to an attack on Akshardham. All the three papers carried wire reports of Indian defense minister, Pranab Mukherjee accusing Pakistan for failing to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure. The News carried a detailed wire report quoting an Indian security analyst saying the `attack was a ploy to enflame sectarian violence and create more friction between nuclear rivals and neighbours, India and Pakistan. " 

But it was the opinion pages that stripped the event of its volatility and subtle biases and gave perspective. Dawn in its edit seemed fearful of a backlash, (¿Attack on Ayodhya,¿ July 7) "The big question is whether the reaction to the terrorist attack there on Tuesday will lead to another communal bloodbath in India. Demonstrations have already begun, and it will need resolve on the part of the Indian government to maintain peace.¿¿  The Indian Express offered essential advice. "This is not the moment to howl for resignations — of the UPA government at the Centre or the Mulayam government in Uttar Pradesh or both. This is not the moment to stir up the phantom of an entire community in danger, as the BJP has sought to do by dubbing it an ``attack on Hindu faith``. The main opposition party must realise that its reaction lurches irresponsibly close to the VHP`s omnibus rant which lumps Pakistan, jehadi terrorism, vote bank politics, reservations for Muslims, into a seamless spectre. This is the time to close ranks against the terrorist ..." 

By July eight coverage of the Ayodhya attack was barely on the margins of the news radar as four bombs ripped through London. 7/7 became London¿s 9/11.  The coverage of the blasts was a perfect example of letting the story speak for itself. Suspected and later proved to be the work of Al Quaeda, coverage in both the Indian and Pakistani papers was comprehensive. The intensity was greater initially. Dawn carried nine affiliated reports on July 8in its main story section.  Across the board in all publications, without reveling in ghoulish details, the horror and the tragedy of the attack came through. Interestingly from Chennai to Karachi, in all headlines the attackers were labeled terrorists "Terror bombings stun London, said Dawn. ¿Terror attacks stun London¿ said The Hindu with a small variation. With correspondents in London both The Times and Hindu were able to offer some original, nifty reportage. A little belatedly the Express sent/appointed a correspondent. But even then nothing was slugged exclusive.  

By and large the Pakistani papers depended on detailed wire reports, using fact boxes, background material maps extensively to give sense of frenzy and fear rather than their own dedicated correspondents.(¿Timeline of attack¿, ¿Accidents in the Underground¿/The News/ July 8)  This was informative, attention grabbing stuff but no scoops were apparent.    

Slowly amongst the immediate reportage, especially in the Pakistani media, some more reflective viewpoints appeared. ¿Muslims fear a backlash¿ (Dawn/ July 8) ¿Don¿t link Islam with attack,¿ (The News/July 9).  ¿Musharaff asks people reject extremism¿ wrote Zahiruddin (The Daily Times/July 9). To reflection was added despair as it revealed that three of the four suicide attackers were second generation Pakistanis and two of the bombers had actually come back to Pakistan to study at madarssahs. Even before this revelation reform and control of seminaries had received continuous play in the papers (Dawn/July 4). The Hindu¿s correspondent based in Islamabad, B. Muralidhar Reddy, tracked the official responses and their overwhelming sense of purpose to thwart extremist elements in Pakistani society. A London report by The Independent on the search for a young Muslim girl, Sahara, by her family after the blasts received wide play (The News and The Daily Times, July 11) and somehow became a leitmotif of how terrorism disregards any religious affiliations. Strangely though the death of a Pakistani as a result of a racial attack received comparatively little media attention,  a fact mentioned by Shireen Mazari in an edit page piece. (¿Denial all round¿/The News/July21). 

But it was the editorials and opinion page pieces, post 7/7 and post 21/7 in the Pakistani dailies when the second round of blasts took place that offered some densely written but mostly subtly argued viewpoints. Independent of the establishment line, they presented a mixture of soul searching, distress mixed with healthy doses of skepticism.  Ayaz Amir (¿Madness, not salvation¿ Dawn/July 18)wrote: "The youngsters suspected of carrying out the London bombing attacks are all Muslims of Pakistani origin with names like Shehzad Tanveer, Hasib Hussain, etc. Can it get any darker than this?" Next week the columnist rubbished president Musharaff¿s routine attempts to raid seminaries to win global approval in favour of strengthening democratic practices: "How many crackdowns constitute a crackdown,¿ rasped Amir. "Every time the finger of suspicion or blame points at Pakistan for some act of terrorism, General Musharaff orders a crackdown on "extremist elements". The police respond by rounding up the usual suspects. (¿Once again the usual suspects¿/Dawn/July 26). 

India¿s claim that terrorist camps continue to exist in Pakistan was with dealt robustly in an edit. (¿Jihadi camps: What is the Truth¿/The Daily Times/ July 16) "It would have been easy to dismiss India`s allegations but for a few other developments. A comprehensive report in a Pakistani magazine confirms the existence of some camps and the training being imparted there. These camps, according to the story, are being run by Hizb ul Mujahideen, Al Badr Mujahideen and the Harkat ul Mujahideen. These groups, according to the Pakistani magazine, have started reorganising and among them are running at least 13 camps in the Mansehra region of the North West Frontier Province. Then there is the blowback of the London bombings which have been traced back to young men of Pakistani origin, at least two of whom, Shahzad Tanveer (22) and Haseeb Hussain (18) were in Pakistan for some length of time not long ago and took "religious training", a euphemism for a combination of indoctrination and some basic combat training. "  

In a perceptive analysis, Shafquat Mehmood argued that terrorism was terrorism wherever it occurred. (¿Moral positions on Terror¿/The News/July 15) "It is not possible to be morally outraged in one situation and ignore every horrible deed in the other. There has to be a morally consistent response whatever the situation. The challenge is to sort out this confusion; to arrive at a standard that allows for a uniform moral response however complicated the circumstances." Overwhelmingly, too, there was also a sense of disdain for US adventurism and its linkages to the London blasts, a line that was apparent in The Hindu but less so in the Times and Express (¿Tough Blair faces harsh truths, soothes panic/The Times of India/July 9).  

In comparison the range of discourse on the Indian opinion pages was limited. Not only in terms of a statistical score but in content, too. A lack of diversity was apparent. Of course, here and there the ¿other¿ view appeared. William Darymple writing for The Guardian appeared prominently on Hindu¿s edit page (¿No Madrasa Link to London Attacks¿/The Hindu/July 21.) Malini Parthasarathi felt that the Prime Minister`s sudden reversion to stereotypes of Pakistan injected uncertainty into an otherwise promising trend of normalisation of bilateral ties. (¿Unsafe Neighbourhood Syndrome¿/The Hindu/July 24).   

Surprisingly, the July 23 bombs in Egypt that killed 88 people in the resort town of Sharm el Sheik yielded less media attention in both the Indian and Pakistani papers than the London blasts. With the suggestion that nine Pakistani nationals were somehow involved in the attack a sense of anguish initially prevailed in Pakistan¿s news coverage. But when the accusation was retracted interest also died down giving way to the dynamics of resentment and conspiracy theories (¿Why only Pakistan?/The News/July 25). It appeared that Arabic fatalities were somehow a lesser news priority than those of London blasts. Somewhat belatedly, a detailed news feature  by IANS news agency appeared in The Times analyzing the absence of Indians in the world¿s most feared terrorist network (¿Why are they no Indian Muslims in Al Quaeda/The Times of India, July 30). 

More riveting for the newsmongers was the human toll resulting from misjudged reactions by security forces. The death of an innocent Brazilian electrician by the London police, the killing of three innocent Kashmiri boys by an army patrol in the Valley lent itself to extensive coverage. Both the Express and Hindu front paged the report. (¿JK again: Mistaken for militants 3 boys shot dead¿/The Indian Express/July 24). The Hindu, too, detailed the brutal tragedy (¿Security Forces Kill 3 Children¿/ July 24). The paper also carried J.J .Singh, the Indian Army chief¿s, regrets on the incident the following day. On the net, The Times of India used an indiatimes.com report, datelined Delhi, to cover the incident (3 kids killed in J&K/July24). The following day the daily used a Reuters report to cover protests.  

In a lead on its national pages The Daily Times using an AP report stated that 5000 people had gathered to protest that  this killing was part of the seamless human rights violations systematically carried out by the Indian army. (¿Thousands protest after soldiers kill 3 boys in Kashmir¿/July 25).  

There was no possibility of a news spin here and Indian edits also batted straight. "¿A Brazilian electrician, mistaken for a suicide bomber, tries to flee from the police and gets felled by their bullets at the London neighbourhood of Stockwell. Three schoolboys wander around after a wedding celebration in Bangargund, a Kashmiri village, and face a barrage of fire from an army patrol who take them for militants. Tragic and terrible events that have come to mark extraordinarily troubled times when bombs explode with sickening regularity in places around the globe — even unlikely ones like Sharm el-Sheik. (Terror`s Twists/The Indian Express/ July 26.) The Hindu in its editorial sounded as anguished. "London or Kashmir, there is something uncivilised about a policing system that, in the name of nation, queen, democracy or whatever, permits its personnel to kill suspects — a system that shoots first, checks later, and gets away with it basically." (¿State Terrorism by Another Name ¿/The Hindu/July 26). 

July showed that the media mindset of both Pakistan and India preferred giving more coverage to militant/terrorist attacks if they were associated with the west or with Kashmir. It somehow drew more emotional coverage like the attack near a Christian missionary school in Srinagar on July 29.  A train blast on the Shramjeevi Express running from Patna to Delhi while killing nine was front paged the first day but received comparatively little follow up attention in Indian papers and appeared as a brief item in Dawn.  The Times used a brief 200 word PTI report (July 29) when the train reached Delhi.  

Journalists getting hurt during attacks ensured even wider coverage. For instance a face off between militants and security forces in Srinagar resulted in the injury of some television journalist wanting to get closer to the action resulting in some injuries. All three Indian papers gave this angle wide play in their reports. (¿Suicide squad killed, 72 people rescued after 24-hour battle. 24 people, including seven journalists, injured¿/The Hindu July 30). 

Like war coverage, it would appear that it is almost impossible for media in its news pages to strive for a fair and balance approach while reporting on terrorism, especially when it connects with their own. As in conflicts it¿s an Us vs.Them story which made it difficult for mediapersons to follow an even handed approach. In the worst case scenario reportage became a mixture of fact and faith; in the best case scenarios it was a patriotic approach backed by critical thinking. It was in the opinion pages, that influential forum, that more considered coverage with diverse voices appeared explaining the historical background and rationalizing contemporary positions.

 

 contact: mannikachopra@yahoo.co.in

 

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