In normal course it would have been “politically correct” to reject as routine the blaming of the media for all complex situations. Yet developments in Jammu and Kashmir do not follow “normal course”, so it would be prudent for the heads of television channels to take note of the concerns expressed by the Centre’s Special Representative who is seeking to revive the process of resolution-oriented dialogue in that troubled state.
For there would be many who would share Mr Dineshwar Sharma’s apprehension that less-than-responsible TV reportage was fuelling sentiments that encouraged young folk to empathise with militant outfits, join their ranks.
Mr Sharma is understood to asked the home ministry to interact with the TV managers, he has identified four channels (some among them claim to be “national”) to ask them to exercise restraint and caution against spreading what he maintains is “vicious propaganda” against Kashmiri folk. Since this is one of the few “suggestions” Mr Sharma has made that has entered the public domain it would be fair to assume it is no off-the-cuff remark.
That the same view had been expressed earlier by the chief minister too is not entirely irrelevant, but since Mr Sharma does not speak from a political platform his opinion ought to carry much weight.
The ministry is treading carefully on the matter, it wants to evade any charge of stepping on the independence of the media, though its officials generally endorse Mr Sharma’s case. And cite numerous examples of misreporting or “coloured” coverage. “Sometimes these channels are just making a mountain out of a molehill.
Many times the debates are vitriolic, and are distant from the facts on the ground,” a senior official told a respected newspaper. “This gives fodder to secessionist forces to sow hatred against the government”.
While there would certainly be truth to those charges, the ministry would also do well to examine the extent to which its own intelligence agencies and paramilitary have been “planting” slanted information on the channels ~ TV reporters have little difficulty “hearing” what officials are saying though none of them come “on record”. The extreme competitiveness of the channels facilitates their being exploited by officials with dubious motives.
This is an issue to which TV managers need to be alive, sensationalism may boost ratings but are they all that count in so tangled a situation as Kashmir? Political parties have also to instruct their members against making provocative comment, even if it does further their own agendas.
Perhaps the biggest impediment Mr Sharma has to overcome is the inability of political paries ~ across the board ~ to accept the Kashmir problem as a national one, requiring a consensual approach upon which he could base, or develop, an action-plan. The television channels which worry him so much are a mere reflection of the larger “divide”.