Is the Indo-Pak row being exacerbated by unhelpful reportage?
Thankfully, the tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, surrounding Kashmir, have de-escalated, at least to some extent. However, it should not be forgotten that things could flare up again in no time.
The world has witnessed so many events over the last few days beginning from early Tuesday morning till Thursday evening -- strengths and weaknesses of the world, two governments, intelligence agencies, diplomacy, etc have been out in the open to various degrees.
The media have not been any exception.
Their terrible helplessness, or unwillingness -- if not an utter failure -- to do their job, which is to provide people with accurate information without any bias, has been clearly exposed.
From the Indian airstrikes on militants in Pakistan to subsequent Pakistani retaliation by striking Indian targets in India-administered Kashmir, the media from the two countries, as well as reputed international outlets, could not give out any information, aside from the statements of the authorities in New Delhi and Islamabad.
In the early hours of Tuesday, Indian fighter jets attacked “a camp housing terrorists who were planning to strike” inside India-held Kashmir similarly to the one on February 14, which killed at least 40 Indian troops.
It was claimed from the Indian side that as many as 350 militants were killed. But Pakistani authorities shrugged off the claim, saying that none were killed and that the Indian aircrafts just dropped a “payload” before being driven by the Pakistani jets.
And the Indian armed forces have not yet provided any evidence for their claim.
In this case, the Indian and Pakistani media just relayed the government versions of the event to its readers and viewers. While the Pakistani media did not seem to have asked a very valid question: How did Indian jets enter Pakistan, evading their air defense system?
The Indian media apparently did not ask the authorities to give any evidence of killing so many “terrorists” inside Pakistan.
The following day, Pakistani fighter jets entered India-administered Kashmir and attacked a few targets. Pakistan also claimed that it had shot down two Indian Mig-21s in its airspace -- one of which crashed inside Pakistan-administered Kashmir and another fell across the line of control, a de facto border between the two countries.
On the same day, Indian authorities claimed that they had shot down a Pakistani F-16. After a video went viral -- showing the wreckage and wounded pilot of the Mig-21 -- the Indian authorities acknowledged that one of their jets had gone astray, crashed in Pakistan-held Kashmir, and that the pilot had been under the custody of the Pakistan Army.
New Delhi did not say anything about the other Mig-21 while Pakistani authorities stated that they had not engaged F-16s on that day. Also, on the same day, an Indian air force helicopter was crashed, killing six people near a bordering area.
Here, as well, there was no question from the media in both countries -- they just relayed whatever their governments had stated. For instance, the Indian media did not ask whether the Pakistani claim of shooting two Mig-21s was true and how Pakistan had been able to attack Indian targets in broad daylight, dodging the air defense system. The Pakistani media also failed to ask the authorities any questions regarding India’s claim of shooting down of the F-16.
It is understandable that governments will provide information that will help their causes. But, it is incumbent upon the media to make their own endeavour to find the truth.
The rule of thumb in journalism is to verify any information that is disseminated. It is often impossible to do so due to various factors, including resource constraints. But efforts should always be made. During the last few days, no mentionable efforts were seen from media outlets in either country.
It is popularly believed that most of the media houses in both countries were not eager to defuse the tensions -- rather, they appeared to be trumpeting the lines of their respective governments, prompting some to liken the information to government propaganda.
The media’s job is not to jump on the bandwagon and promote nationalism. Instead, the media is entrusted to inform people as to what has happened. Many will agree that, in the last few days, this has not been the case.
The Western media were also hardly any better, while the Bangladeshi media seems to have covered the events in-line with the input of the Western media and those from India and Pakistan. All in all, the media seems to have been unwilling or unhelpful, for whatever reason, to be able to ensure accurate reportage in this specific context.
Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan is a special correspondent at the Dhaka Tribune.