​​How the fog of war has blinded journalists to their roles

02 March 2019

Wars create heroes out of individuals who show great courage. But wars also create clowns who clothe themselves in patriotism, and strut and fret their hour upon the stage. The rising tensions between India and Pakistan over the past few weeks have resulted in many of the latter, at least on this side of the line of control. On 14 February, a young Kashmiri man named Adil Ahmed Dar rammed his vehicle full of explosives into a security convoy carrying Central Reserve Police Force jawans in Pulwama, killing at least forty personnel and wounding many more. Since then, journalists in India, in particular on television, have discarded their mufti and their objectivity—though not many had it in the first place—and wrapped themselves in the Indian tricolour. Their jingoistic calls for war began soon after the Pulwama attack, and reached a fever pitch over the past two days, during which India conducted air strikes at Balakot, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, followed by a dogfight with the Pakistan Air Force the next day.

It is necessary to differentiate these journalists from those who expressed sympathy for the CRPF jawans and their families, which is compassionate—nobody deserves to die the way they did, even if it can be argued that the jawans were aware of the risks their profession poses. Some journalists understandably expressed their condolences. But for others, emotion began to colour their reporting, blurring the lines between the professional and the personal.

Indeed, the affliction that took hold of some newsrooms was baffling. Network anchors fell over themselves to outdo one another’s displays of patriotism, complete with bizarre visuals of landscapes enveloped in billowing smoke, graphics that would be hazardous to those suffering from epilepsy and hashtags dripping with patriotism, shattering any barrier that may have existed between a state-propaganda channel and a credible news network.

Their zeal is worth putting on record—a task that the media blog Indian Journalism Review undertook on its website. Some anchors, such as ZEE News’s Sudhir Chaudhary and Network 18’s Anand Narasimhan took to Twitter to parrot a slogan popularised by the recent Bollywood film Uri, which has since been employed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s politicians—“How’s the josh?” The official account for the channel Times Now posted a tweet about “mazboot Bharat”—strong India—taking on “naya Pakistan”—new Pakistan, which the channel’s editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar retweeted. He doubled down on his sentiment in his prime-time debates—loud affairs promoted with hashtags such as “India Strikes” and “PakFakeClaims.” His colleague Navika Kumar expressed her glee at India’s air strikes in a response to a tweet by the Pakistani singer-actor Ali Zafar, in which the latter had praised a speech by Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. Kumar asked if Zafar was “speechless” after the Balakot strike. She sprinkled her tweet with ten Indian flags for good measure. She also tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Air Force, lest her patriotism go unnoticed. Sumit Awasthi of ABP News posted on Twitter that India had been patient for too long, and it was time to show “shaurya”—bravery.

Adding to the hall of shame, Anjana Om Kashyap of Aaj Tak tweeted a couplet, saying, “O enemy, you better realise, you will lose the game when we play it.” Rahul Kanwal, who only a few months earlier enthusiastically participated in a “reconstruction” of a supposed operation against Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, eagerly tweeted “Jai Ho,” followed by “Pakistan stunned into disbelief.” Marya Shakil of CNN-News18 went a step further—she chided the opposition for praising only the IAF, saying Modi’s political will deserved credit as well. Gaurav Sawant, the executive editor at India Today, urged the army to not stop at one blow, but to strike “hard and deep,” and “strike again & again.” The veteran anchor Rajdeep Sardesai was relatively restrained, but joined those singing encomiums to the air force, terming India’s strike “a remarkable operation” that deserved “kudos.” Bhupendra Chaubey, also of CNN-News18, saluted India’s “brave warriors,” and Rohit Sardana of Aaj Tak announced that no proof of India’s air strike was needed as Pakistan had confirmed it took place.

Salil Tripathi lives in New York, is a contributing editor at The Caravan and writes for Mint.

Keywords: Rajdeep Sardesai Balakot Pakistan Indian Air Force Abhinandan Varthaman Republic TV Arnab Goswami Barkha Dutt Times Now Pulwama CRPF India Today Gaurav Sawant Kashmir