Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Screaming cable coverage provides valuable lessons

AWANTIPORA, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR—Sadly, there seems to be no end to the examples our world produces that demonstrate the need for a better approach to journalism. This latest example occurred yesterday in a neighboring state, Punjab, where 10 people were killed during an attack in a town called Gurdaspur. Three attackers were also killed after a prolonged standoff.

I told the 50 or so gathered for a peace journalism seminar at the Islamic University of Science and Technology today that the coverage of this event on three Indian cable TV channels was reminiscent of American cable news coverage of mass shootings or attacks. Before I gave the students my impressions of the coverage on News X, Times Now, and CNN-IBN, I let them go first. Their assessment was spot-on: the Indian cable coverage was sensational, one sided, finger-pointing, and distorted.  I agreed.

Further, I said, this coverage I viewed last night was irresponsible, pointing the finger of blame at Pakistan immediately after the attack and before any investigation was conducted. Screaming animated graphics on Times Now announced “Attackers were from Pakistan” before this was proven. The other channels were only a bit more subtle, announcing in their graphics “Pak(istan) hand nailed?” and “Pak hand?” 

Not only were no voices advocating calm or peace heard, the cable coverage here even went as far as to snidely dismiss efforts at peace (“India pays price for appeasement,” Soft on India haters,” “Talks or Terror: Time to Decide.”)

Finally, although the Pakistan foreign minister condemned the attack, only CNN-IBN mentioned this during my 90 minutes of viewing, and that mention was only a 10-second flashing of a graphic.
This cable TV coverage provided grist for our discussion all day long, and effectively drove home the need for a peace journalism approach in India that rejects traditional reporting that:

--Is “us vs. them”, or in this case, India vs. Pakistan;
--Blames without providing proof;
--Presents claims as facts;
--Is sensational and inflammatory;
--Presents violence as the only option while marginalizing calls for peace.
I look forward to my continuing discussions this week and next with students, faculty, and professional journalists here in Kashmir.

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