Truth and TRP

  • Ajaz Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jun 1 2017 8:59PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 1 2017 8:59PM
Truth and TRP

                                                             Illustration: Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

The aggressive news television in India has been at the forefront of a vicious campaign against Kashmiris


All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.

-Adolf Hitler


“We create the enemy. Before the enemy comes the image. We think others to death and then invent the battle-axe or the ballistic missiles with which to actually kill them. Propaganda precedes technology.”  

-Sam Keene in Faces of the enemy: Reflections of the hostile imagination


As reported in the local as well as the national media some days back a patient from Kashmir went to PGI Chandigarh for neurosurgical consultation. On seeing her documents and realising that she is a Kashmiri the doctor reportedly threw the documents at her and abused her saying “You pelt stones at our soldiers and come here for treatment!”

This is by no means an isolated incident. The abuse and even physical assault on Kashmiri people in India is nothing new but in recent times it is not only the low-life on the streets that has been involved in such incidents but people from the so-called elite classes are also speaking the language of the mobs. The trend of spewing venom against the Kashmiri people by the usual section of rabid politicians has been supplemented by similar statements by actors, cricketers, writers etc. The rabble in the streets now seems to have a solid backing of prominent citizens, the sort one would expect to exercise moderation, and this phenomenon is gaining with every passing day. The attitude demonstrated by a doctor, a healer whom convention and decency dictate that he treat all his patients without any prejudice, is just an indication of the jaundiced view current amongst vast sections of the Indian public with regard to Kashmir. At the same time this incident is a measure of the success of propaganda against the Kashmiri people, a propaganda that has effectively succeeded in demonizing them. It is no wonder that not only does the plight of the Kashmiri civilians, who are more often victims of atrocities rather than the perpetrators, not evoke any sympathy in most Indians but also the acts of violence are shrugged off and at times even justified. This fascist mindset has largely been fostered by the media. Indeed the aggressive Indian media which has long ceased to be an observer and turned into an active participant in news and events has been at the forefront of a vicious campaign against the Kashmiri people.

Media is the backbone of any democracy and a watchdog for the principles that a healthy democracy stands for, values like freedom, liberty and equality. However, this role is only possible when the media maintains objectivity and impartiality and nurtures a healthy and informed debate among the people. It seems that the Indian media has sacrificed all pretensions to impartially and fairness to competitive reporting and TRPs. What is more it does not restrict itself to reporting and analysis but has turned into an opinionated arbiter that seeks to create situations rather than merely report about them. The death of objectivity is of course largely a consequence of the hijacking of the media by the corporate sector and its conversion into a commercial tool in its hands. When it comes to Kashmir however there is yet another dimension to this aggressive posturing. The venom spewed by the TV channels seems to have tacit approval of the authorities and it is not inconceivable that it may, at least in some cases, be at the very behest of the authorities. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the channels seem to be inspired by the ideology of the present ruling party or it may be that they have been carried away by the trends it has set in motion or again maybe they are just riding the popular wave. Of course the use of mass media as a propaganda tool is nothing new.

It would appear that with increasing reach of the mass media, because of rapid strides in information technology, the role of the media as a watchdog ensuring justice and liberty would be served better but that has not been the case. In fact the very opposite of that has happened. Since media is largely controlled by power wielding quarters, the difficulties and injustices suffered by the dispossessed and the oppressed have only increased further. The increased reach of the media and the consequent increase in its influence has only added to the armamentarium of the oppressor. Dehumanization and then demonization of the oppressed has released the powerful oppressor from accountability and made it possible for it to wreak further atrocities on them. The electronic media has far more penetration than the print media and in contrast to the print media it not only acts as the eyes of the viewers but also spares them the trouble of analysing the news. The conventional news readers who would maintain a neutral stance as they dished out the news have been largely replaced by aggressive news hosts who edit and interpret news and views to suit the ideological leanings of their masters. The risks inherent in this strategy are quite apparent.

Kashmir is a classic example of how this strategy works to the disadvantage of those at the receiving end. The maiming and murder of protesting youth and even innocent bystanders continues with impunity but instead of showcasing that the Indian media turns victims into perpetrators. The stone pelting youth, some of them barely out of their teens, are portrayed as a lethal threat when in reality their protest, even in its most violent form is too puny against the military might of the forces they are protesting against. It is not unusual for gross violations by the security apparatus to be glossed over and attempts made to portray the security forces as patriotic heroes performing their duties against all odds. That might be true as well but the manipulation lies in the manner in which one truth is used to negate another truth even if the two truths are not exactly in direct conflict.  Even if the visuals on the screen go against the state agencies the malicious commentary and the deliberately manipulated debate can easily distort facts and prejudice the viewers. The Indian media especially while reporting on Kashmir employs a distracting cacophony of highly emotionalised fiery debates to prevent a cool and rational analysis of a particular event or situation. News is magnified or minimised or entirely blanked out depending upon how it fits into the discourse chosen by a particular media outlet. This is evident in the manner in which the Indian media magnifies the situation in Kashmir, building it up into a war and the protesters’ into enemy combatants. It does not end at that. Even small day-to-day matters related to Kashmir are blown out of proportion if they can lend themselves to a negative portrayal. The good news about Kashmir is of course conveniently ignored and the human rights violations, of at times hellish proportions, conveniently glossed over or even turned on their head to the disadvantage of the Kashmiri people.

Of course one might contend that the authorities cannot be directing all these channels to do their work for them. Indeed that cannot be, but conceivably the deliberate propaganda of a few chosen TV channels inspires other channels to follow suit because they too want to grab their share of public viewership. Thus once started the propaganda machine becomes self sustaining and self-propagating. The complicity of the state is very much evident in that no curbs are put on the noxious stuff spewed out by these channels. What is more the argument of ‘Freedom’ of the media cannot be sustained in this case because the same ‘freedom’ is easily denied to any section of the media which takes a conflicting stand. This is exemplified by curbs on local newspapers with at least one newspaper being categorically shut down for nearly three months. One cannot but remark that this pseudo-patriotic zeal shown by the media is misguided in that it does more damage than serve any useful purpose. An aggressive stance generates even more antagonism and widens the gulf between the conflicting parties.

Meanwhile the jingoistic Indian media continues to violate all norms of journalistic decency which portends a terrifying future for democracy in general and Kashmir in particular. An idea of that can be garnered from writings about places like Vietnam, where also a powerful aggressor perpetrated inhuman cruelties against the local population and at the same time managed to portray them as the guilty party. To quote Jonathan Shay, an American psychiatrist and amateur classicist who worked closely with the veterans of the Vietnamese war, the Vietnamese “were thought of as monkeys, insects, vermin, childlike, unfeeling automata, puny... inscrutable, uniquely treacherous, deranged, physiologically inferior, primitive, barbaric and devoted to fanatical suicide charges.” This naturally led to the sort of situation described by Richard Holmes in his Acts of War: “The road to My Lai was paved, first and foremost, by the dehumanisation of the Vietnamese and the ‘mere gook rule’ which declared that killing a Vietnamese civilian did not really count.”

The Indian media seems to be working at creating a similar situation in Kashmir. That is if it hasn’t done that already...