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Indian and Pakistani media fan flames of competitive ’partiotism’

by Ammar Ali Jan, 15 December 2008

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The News on Sunday, 14 December 2008

One side of the story

A look at the art of omission that the modern media has mastered and how this completely changes the perspective, especially in a time of crisis

For the past two weeks, the Pakistani media has been busy exposing the ’bias’ and ’hypocrisy’ of the Indian media. Our anchors, columnists, analysts and journalists are drawing our attention towards the baseless allegations being hurled at Pakistan from across the border without any investigation at all.

The critique of this lack of substantiation is indeed a valid one. It has created an atmosphere of anger and hate in India, perfect pre-requisites for war. Our media is also right in pointing out the growing disparity in ’shining India’, the great injustices being committed against minorities and the dozens of insurgencies that have rocked our neighbour. That the Hindu right-wing will benefit from the Mumbai carnage in the upcoming elections is also a fact that has been given a lot of attention in the Pakistani press.

However, this is the actual limit of the ’honest’ critique by our media. While we condemn the one-sided reporting by the Indians, are we not falling prey to the same?

In order to understand this bias in the media, we should look at the art of omission that the modern media has mastered and how this act completely changes the perspective, especially in a time of crisis. People like Professor Noam Chomsky from MIT have been very critical of the way the US media handled the 9/11 incident. In order to create war hysteria in the country, the media played on the existing anger and directed it towards a country without demanding much evidence from the administration. The US media was right in pointing out that these barbaric acts were committed by those who became a threat to civilisation. That terrorists groups did exist in the Muslim world and there was an increasing radicalisation among the Muslim youth. The dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world were also severely criticised, and rightly so. However, this was the limit of the ’truth’ that the US media could afford.

As Chomsky points out, the US media failed to educate the American people about the reasons for this monstrous attack. For example, no one in the mainstream media was able to highlight the US policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict where it completely favours Israeli aggression. It did not expose the results of sanctions on Muslims countries like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan and the periodic bombings of these countries. Nor could it demonstrate the support the US gave to tyrannical regimes in the Muslim world including Saddam Hussain himself. Mort importantly, the media was never able to demonstrate the support given to these terrorist organisations during the Reagan era and establish that 9/11 was nothing more than a blowback of a short-sighted imperialist policy. Being patriotic meant being pro-war. Dissent was silenced.

Coming back to Pakistan, we can witness a similar line being taken in "reaction to the Indian threats". It is easy to criticise the US media and its citizens, but are we any better? The sort of jingoistic nationalism portrayed by our media has been extremely disturbing because one had great respect for the independence of the Pakistani media. It will be worthwhile to have a look at some of the things being said on various channels.

As already stated, the Pakistani media is highlighting the plight of minorities in India. One anchor stated that all of the viewers should bow in front of Allah and thank Him for creating Pakistan; otherwise we would have been oppressed (obviously there is no oppression in Pakistan!). Our anchors are also trying to prove how RAW has been interfering in Afghanistan against our interests (since we have never interfered in that unfortunate country!) and it is involved in insurgencies in Balochistan and even in the recent Karachi riots (of course, it is only the responsibility of the Indian media to substantiate its claims). This tit-for-tat rubbish would have made us all laugh, only if the future of millions was not at stake!
Another outcome of this crisis has been the revival of the image of the army and ISI in the eyes of the public. Suddenly, we are being told by all television networks about the importance of the ISI as our first line of defence and warned of the ’Jewish-Hindu conspiracy’ to destroy this ’national asset’. General (r) Hameed Gul is seen on TV all the time lecturing us about the ’professionalism’ of the agency and his willingness to lead our defence against the US and India (much like he did during the Afghan jihad, though as a crony of the US).

Suddenly all criticism of the army, bureaucracy and the monstrous intelligence agencies has vanished as we need to "unite as one nation under one flag". Anyone showing dissent is a RAW agent.There is a frightening similarity to the US media’s response after 9/11.

Why is there no one questioning this narrow interpretation of nationalism? Was it the RAW that disrupted the democratic process in Pakistan? Was it the Indian army that deprived Bengalis of their rights and later launched a brutal operation that is termed genocide by the Bengalis? Did the Indian generals hang the most popular prime minister of Pakistan? Was the Indian government alone responsible for patronising ethnic groups like the MQM? Is India responsible for the deprivation felt by the Balochs, Sindhis and the Pukhtoons? Are they the ones launching military operations against Pakistani citizens? Are the Indian agencies involved in rigging elections in Pakistan and depriving our people of their democratic rights? Who was involved in handing over Pakistani citizens to the US for paltry rewards? Who has monopolised our economy and is depriving ordinary workers the right to decent life?

In acting the way it is, our media is lending its uncritical support to all the state and non-state actors which have only put our existence under threat. "We must stand united as one" is the typical reply you get these days as a response to any criticism of these actors. However, if we hold this form of nationalism to be true, then why do we critique the US, Israeli and the Indian media? Plus, what does this line of defence actually imply? It can be rephrased in these words "at a time of a national security threat, it is okay for the media to twist facts, make unsubstantiated claims, slander the enemy and conceal facts in order to spread patriotism".

The job of the media is not to spread the elite’s version of patriotism. Its job is to educate the masses through objective facts and objectivity cannot change with one’s own association with a geographical location.

In a time of crisis, one would expect genuinely critical analyses, if only because the stakes are too high. Think about it. This current crisis can even lead to a war in which millions of lives will be affected. The media of both India and Pakistan, however, is busy spreading ’patriotism’ and concealing facts from its viewers. The more troubling part is that no one seems to have an ethical problem with all this bigotry. A scary thought, indeed!

We are waiting for someone in the media to categorically state that the war-mongers in both these countries are a threat to ordinary people. We cannot equate Indian nationalism with Hindutva or Pakistani nationalism with its intelligence agencies. We need people in the media who can put a stop to this bashing of the other country and look at the crisis in its entirety by criticising their own establishments, who can show that our nationalism is about the betterment of our people, and not simply a hateful reaction to the other country.

Dr Luther King Jr.’s words directed at the US media for their shameful silence on US atrocities in Vietnam may prove useful for the Indian and Pakistani media. He said, "In a time of a great moral crisis, silence in the name of patriotism is betrayal."