Panellists at Military Literature Festival (MLF) 2018 on Sunday called for a more fearless, balanced and critical approach while covering the defence forces, particularly the Indian Army, to ensure transparency and credibility of information flow to public.
Participating in a discussion on ‘Reporting from the War Zone’, during the third and final day of the Festival here at the Lake Club, the panellists also suggested a proper training module for journalists covering frontline battles and exploits of soldiers during counter-insurgency operations.
The eminent group of participants included former UK Chief of Staff 3rd Division Brigadier Justin Maciejewski and his wife Rebecca Maciejewski, media producer Arati Singh and Chandigarh based war correspondent Vikramjit Singh, besides Major James Sutherland and Captain Jay Singh Sohal of UK Army.
Calling for a transparent system for decisions pertaining to announcement of gallantry awards, the panellists said there were certain misgivings amongst senior commanders regarding particular citations. Maciejewski stated that governments needed to be more forthcoming in engaging journalists while sharing information leading to such decisions.
Seconding the thought, Vikramjit Singh, who has covered the frontline operations twice in Jammu-Kashmir, said that regimental affiliations at times do play a partisan role in awarding gallantry honours like Param Veer Chakra (PVC).
Earlier, highlighting the psychological trauma faced by soldiers on war duty, Singh brought alive the poignant tale of Indian personnel honouring the dead Pakistani intruders killed during the Kargil war by performing their last rites.
“At first our men were seething with anger at the thought of being asked to rest the bodies of Pakistani soldiers who had killed their comrades, but later senior commanders consoled them explaining that at the end of the day they were soldiers too,” he said.
Sharing their thoughts on the nuances of war coverage, Brigadier Maciejewski and Captain Sohal cautioned against the temptation to go for an exclusive story.
“Real war has real people, with the lives of their families and friends entangled with the fate of the war,” said Captain Sohal, while referring to the London beheading of a UK soldier by Jihadists, the video of which was aired by many channels.
“In this age of information, it is getting increasingly difficult to ascertain the veracity of facts,” said Major James Sutherland, highlighting the role of the editorial checks and balances in the fight to be more ‘instant’ than others.