Peace and normalcy continue to elude the Indian-administered region of Kashmir with violent clashes between local protesters and Indian forces raging unabated.
As the causalities in the valley grow further, the coverage of the unrest is sparking a huge controversy within the media.
Bismillah Geelani takes a look at what is being termed as India’s media wars.
On most Indian television channels the prime time talk shows these days are focused on Kashmir.
Newsrooms are sounding more like war rooms with news anchors and panelists with extreme views trying to outshout each other. At times, it’s hard to figure out who is saying what.
Public opinion in India has always been divided on the question of Kashmir. There are some who believe that Kashmir is a political problem that should be addressed politically and they criticize the use of force on Kashmiri protesters.
Activist Gautam Navlakha represents this side of the debate.
“There is an unresolved issue from 1947. People have been wanting, and demanding a peaceful democratic way of resolving it. We have fought wars with Pakistan but it hasn’t ended the Kashmir dispute, we have had military suppression from 1989-90 and once again we are witnessing a mass support for the demand for Azadi, or the right to self-determination,” Navlakha argued.
But a large majority believes the disturbance in Kashmir is sponsored by Pakistan in order to destabilize India – therefore justifying the actions of the Indian security forces.
The ongoing unrest in Kashmir has further sharpened this divide and brought it out in the open.
This time, it’s taken the shape of what many have described as a media war.
It began with the editor of Times Now TV Arnab Goswami objecting to the coverage of the Kashmir crisis by some rival TV channels on his popular talk show.
Without naming any names he levelled serious allegations against some journalists.
“Many of these pseudo-liberals have been vilifying our army, abusing our army and pressurizing our army and paramilitary forces operating in the most hostile of circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir,” accused Goswami.
“This narrow but vocal section, which includes vested interests in some parts of the media has been openly and shockingly trying to echo the Pakistani line. In the guise of backing Kashmiris, these sections including sections of the media are doing everything possible to support Pakistan sitting here in India,” he concluded.
Goswami then goes on to demand legal action against them. Some Hindi language channels also made similar comments.
The opposite camp retorted back with equal force questioning the journalistic credentials of their rivals.
Ravish Kumar is from NDTV India.
“Who are these people to decide who is a patriot and who is not? What do they know of the ground situation? When did you see them last time stepping out of their cozy studios and covering a real issue of public interest? You get a prime time slot, wear a coat and a tie, get hold of a camera and then start lecturing us on journalistic ethics, it won’t do,” Kumar bluntly stated.
Others took to social media to vent their anger.
While TV channels often trade charges of reductionist or exaggerated reporting around Kashmir, this is the first time that people from the media are demanding action against their colleagues.
Senior journalist Sidhath Vardajan says it’s a disturbing development.
“We have seen over the past year and half, perhaps longer or various other times in India’s modern political history governments reacting to what they perceive as negative media coverage in a very hostile manner and it is the easiest thing in the world to do.”
Vardajan continued, “it’s the government playbook to shoot the messenger, to go after the person carrying bad news who is conveying the picture on the ground that doesn’t suit the official version.”
The government also released a statement that many journalists view as a veiled threat to those covering Kashmir events with objectivity.
Venkaiya Naidu is Minister for Information and Broadcasting.
“Sympathizing with terrorists who want to break up India is not acceptable at all. So the people who are trying to express sympathy and also writing columns they should understand the public sentiment of the country.”
Back in Kashmir, protestors have attacked several journalists from the mainstream national media over recent days for what they describe as provocative reporting and distorting the facts.
The situation in the Kashmir valley remains tense for the fourth consecutive week, with the death toll now climbing to nearly 60.