Independent Versus the Hawk: Indian Commercial Television debates

The ongoing unrest in Kashmir, where 23 people including policeman have lost their lives after Indian security forces killed Hizbul commander, Burhan Wani, has also ignited a raging debate on whether some channels in Indian media have resorted to playing patriot games over a militant’s death.

And once again, two big names of Indian TV industry have locked horns with no holds barred attack against each other.

It all started with the veteran journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai, taking to his blog questioning the ‘patriotic’/nationalistic credentials of Indian journalists particularly during the coverage of Wani’s killing and the subsequent protests.

In his well articulated blog, Rajdeep recounted the role of the BBC during the Falklands War in 1983 when the British national broadcaster was criticised by the then UK prime minister, Margret Thatcher, for not taking side with the British forces in its coverage.

To which, the then Director General of the BBC, John Birt, was reported to have reminded Thatcher that the journalistic organisation was not an ‘extension of the political authority’; its first commitment was to the truth, not to the nation state.

Many felt that Rajdeep’s anguish was targeted at his former colleague, Arnab Goswami, and his channel Times Now, which has become notorious for whipping up often unnecessary nationalistic fervour, thereby throwing objectivity out of the window.

Hours later, a visibly agitated Arnab launched a blistering attack understandably against Rajdeep to counter the latter’s ‘patriot games’ jibe with his own headline, ‘Don’t Romanticise Terror.’ Arnab resorted to name calling and frequently used terms such as ‘pseudo-liberals’ for his critics while describing their criticism as a shameful act.

Many felt that Arnab’s reply pretty much confirmed what his former boss had highlighted in his blog.

You can read both Rajdeep’s blog and Arnab’s response during his Newshour debate below and decide for yourself who’s right on the issue of media ethics.

Rajdeep Sardesai:


During the 1983 Falklands war, a member of the Margaret Thatcher government angrily described the BBC as the ‘Stateless People’s Broadcasting Corporation’ because it referred to the forces as ‘British’ and ‘Argentinian’ forces instead of ‘our’ and ‘enemy’ forces. When an Argentinian ship was sunk, an incensed Thatcher responded, ‘only the BBC would ask a British prime minister why she took action against an enemy ship that was a danger to our boys’. That is when the BBC director general John Birt is said to have reminded the British prime minister that the journalistic organisation was not an ‘extension of the political authority’; its first commitment was to the truth, not to the nation state.

The Thatcher story is instructive at a time when the ‘patriotic’/nationalistic credentials of Indian journalists and news organisations are under the scanner for their coverage of the violence in the Kashmir valley. The newly minted I and B minister has already warned that he expects ‘responsible’ coverage from the media; army information teams have red flagged any attempt to send out any ‘negative’ news; the social media army of ‘proud Indians’ on Twitter has abusively accused journalists (including this writer) of being ‘terrorist sympathisers’, ‘anti national’ and questioned ones parentage.

Who is to tell my outraged friends in the Twitter world that journalism in its purest form doesn’t wear the tricolour on its sleeve. Yes, I am a very proud Indian, but my journalism demands that I tell the story of Kashmir, not as a soldier in army fatigues but as a mike pusher who reports different realities in a complex situation. Burhan Wani is a terrorist who has been ‘neutralised’ in the eyes of majority of Indians; he is a victim who has been ‘martyred’ for the thousands of Kashmiris who lined up for his funeral. A propagandist would only broadcast the narrative that suits the agenda of one side but a journalist must necessarily explore both stories: that of Wani the Hizbul terrorist who took to the gun and used social media as a weapon AND Wani as the posterboy for a localised militancy which feeds on tales of alleged oppression and injustice. A journalist must speak to the army which is trying to quell the protests on the street, but must also listen to the youth who have chosen to their vent their anger with stones. And he must then dispassionately and accurately report the ground reality without glamourising violence or terrorism but also without becoming a spokesperson for the Indian state.

It is maintaining this delicate balance that defines good journalism. Sadly, there are few takers it appears for this challenging task. Instead, in a polarised, toxic environment, journalists are being asked to take sides, to state their preferences, to place opinion ahead of facts, to show off their macho ‘nationalism’, to be part of a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ battleground in tv studios and beyond. Which is why I wish to highlight the BBC role in the Falklands war. Here is a genuine public service broadcaster that is able to ensure that its commitment is to the British people, not to the government, even in a war between countries. The philosophy is clear: the truth, however inconvenient it might be for the power apparatus, must be told.

In Kashmir too, we need to tell truth to power: the truth of disaffected youth with limited opportunities for growth, of failed, corrupted politics, of an unshaken ‘azaadi’ sentiment, of army excesses, of a neighbouring country which sponsors terror, of a nostalgic notion of Kashmiriyat which was eroded when Pandits were driven out of their homes, of radicalised youth seeking to romanticise violence, of hard working twenty somethings topping the civil service exams, of an unacceptable distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters. As a vibrant democracy, we must be able to look into the mirror with confidence and face these competing ‘truths’. Too many of the stakeholders in Kashmir, Delhi and beyond have lived in denial for too long. Wani’s killing and its aftermath must end this mood of denial even as we in the media must learn to stop playing patriot games.

Post script: Many years ago, while reporting a story on Kashmir, I described those who had targeted a bus as terrorists. That evening, a local colleague in Srinagar suggested that I might be better off calling the perpetrators as ‘militants’. I asked him why. “Sir, they maybe terrorists, but here it is safer to use the word ‘militant’.” When even simple wordplay can get tangled in the minefield of Kashmir’s bloody politics, you realise the complicated nature of the journalistic challenge.

Arnab Goswami on Newshour

“For over 72 hours now since the SUCCESSFUL killing and MUCH WANTED killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, a section of misguided pseudo liberals have gone on and on about how the Indian State must be more responsible. About how the Indian security forces must be more sensible. Now, some of these highly confused elements, who are in journalism say that they are in a dilemma today about how to report a terrorist’s death. They say they are in a dilemma about how to report the fallout of a terrorist’s death with mobs breaking out of control and attacking a police station.

I feel sorry for these people, because they don’t realise that when it comes to right or wrong, black and white, nationalist and anti-national, for the Indian army, which protects us, and against the Indian army, for the tricolour and against the tricolour, for the sovereignty of the Indian State and against the sovereignty of the Indian State. there can be no prevarication, no grey area, no confusion and certainly no dilemma. Ladies and Gentlemen, this terrorist, Burhan Wani, had declared the Indian army as his biggest enemy. Burhan Wani was an identified and armed threat to the sovereignty of the Indian State. And just because he was KASHMIRI, does not make it ok for the pseudo liberals to build a case against his killing. He was a terrorist.

Today the self-proclaimed pseudo liberals, the same who speak of injustice to Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon have most unfortunately and SHAMELESSLY, come together to shy away from calling a known Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist a terrorist. To use the guise of human rights and peddle it to bestow martyrdom to slain terrorist and today we watch these pseudo intellectual brigade sitting in their high-armchairs refusing to call the killing of Burhan Wani, for what it is a FANTASTIC SUCCESS.

A GLORIOUS success of our brave security personnel. Viewers, let’s come together tonight and let us junk this group and junk their bluff.. Let us not romanticise or confuse terror…And if you agree with me because this rubbish has been going on for three days now, then join me as we together take on the pseudo liberals and the Pakistanis after that in debate number one and debate number 2 of the Newshour.”

This story originally appeared on Janta Ka Reporter.



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