Kashmir floods and the national media: A saga of shame and cynicism

Most of the national media’s operating assumptions and world view appear to be premised on ether. That is, they appear to operate in a make believe, airy fairy world.

Newsbytes are culled from prominent figures, interviews or statements are twisted and then debates generated over these. Or random people are asked loaded questions which are then twisted to suit particular agendas.

A galaxy of so called ‘experts’ willingly oblige and make fools of themselves. This is a more sanguine or benign view. A darker reading suggests that most media houses do not really care about people. All they are animated by are ratings, sensationalism and crude jingoistic chicanery. Classic and eloquent examples of this and what has now apparently become a trend are the so called debates on the humanitarian disaster that continues to unfold in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The first of these foolish and ethereal debates was carried out by NDTV. Instead of producing a program that would generate empathy and sympathy among the masses, or highlight the valiant and brave efforts by the people of Kashmir to save their fellow Kashmiris and at times even outsiders, the channel chose to generate a debate over whether the army’s efforts in assisting the people of the state would generate sympathy for the army!



The second one was the ‘debate’ generated by News X which attempted to impugn the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir , Omar Abdullah, by culling a statement of his and chose to focus on it by twisting it. News X wondered aloud and asked whether the CM’s statement that people had been warned and asked to evacuate but they chose to ignore these warnings was adding insult to the injury of the people. (NDTV then chose to repetitively portray Kashmiris as ingrates, directing their anger and ire towards the army. The premise of most of the anger was and is, in fact,NDTV’s slanted coverage)

In most instances, the debates were foregrounded in prejudice and were overtly and clearly political. In a situation that is clearly a humanitarian disaster and which warranted sympathy, empathy and support for the people of the hapless state, the media or at least the most prominent media houses chose to politicize it.

This is nothing but the height of cynicism and manipulation of suffering. Here, it would appear, what motivated the media were not even ratings; it was a clear cut instance of using the media’s reach to politicize, manipulate and impugn. The so called debates degenerated into slug fests and slanging matches where almost every so called expert had an axe to grind and an agenda to pursue.

Relief for the people, the courage and valiant efforts of the locals, alleviation of suffering and misery was far and distant from the minds of these media houses, media persons and so called experts.( I am witness to the acts of great courage and bravery by Kashmiris where they threw their own lives in jeopardy to save the lives of stranded and marooned people, regardless of creed , ethnicity or religion. There were other umpteen instances of selflessness and assistance to even outsiders and strangers. In fact, in one instance, I was bypassed and preference given to a Bihari labourer for that scarce commodity in great demand these days: a bag of onions. The shopkeeper in contention gave the last bag of onions to the labourer than me (a fellow Kashmiri) even though I had been amongst the crowd of customers before the labourer. None of these examples of courage and assistance found a mention in the media).

In fact, it was these media houses that added insult to injury, by running fancy advertisements after showing sombre scenes of suffering and misery in the state. Would it not have been respectful and constituted a demonstration of sympathy for the Kashmiris, if ads were not run these days? Or even if ads were run, could not these corporate media houses have devoted a share of the revenues from these ads to Kashmiris? Of course not. Talk is cheap and only those who really care put their money where their mouth is!

The reckless airing of these debates which are far from the reality and truth, demonstrates an awkward truth about the media in India. Most of the media houses are animated by ratings (this is self evident) and they don’t care a hoot about the sufferings and miseries of people.

All they really appear to care about is harassing, impugning, maligning and destroying reputations especially of that favourite whipping boy of the media: the politician.

Admittedly, the political class in India is not a picture perfect class of propriety and great integrity, but it is unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. The media’s operating assumption here is guilty until proven innocent and there is a veritable galaxy of executioners (the so called experts) to precisely do this. (To be fair, there is an odd man or woman, who tries to be fair and just but these are rarities).

The fourth estate or the media is supposed to be the sentinel and guardian of a societyís virtue , be vigilant against violence and threats to public good, promote public good, highlight impropriety, and promote humanity and when the need arises be at the forefront of highlighting and catalyzing action against or for alleviating human misery and suffering.

In this regard, the media should neither be animated by ethnicity, religion, gender or grounds of race. It should promote the cause of humanity. However, the dismal and abysmal level of debate generated by some major media houses on the Kashmir tragedy appears to have done the converse.

This is both a tragedy and travesty.