The Indo-Pak standoff provided a description how recklessly mainstream independent media of India accepted propaganda of state and became a State mouthpiece without verification of information provided by the State.
Pakistani senior journalist Mazhar Abbas recently came up with an excellent piece in Urdu which explains the situation, the Indian media went through.
The Dispatch News Desk (DND) News Agency is providing the English translation of his article for those who cannot understand Urdu.
This translation can be helpful for our Indian colleagues across the border to revisit their stated position because this article has more academic values than only a piece from a senior journalist of Pakistan.
Following is the English translation of Mazhar Abbas’s Urdu article:
The Price of False Reporting
This was back in May 2004 when three prominent newspaper of the United State of America admitted that they had been used by the Bush administration. I will be waiting for the time when Indian media, especially the channel owners, come out clean over how they misguided their viewers and fed fabricated information to the general public.
In 2004, popular American opinion was swayed to the belief that Iraq has ‘deadly chemical’ weapons. This belief was then used as a basis to attack Iraq, which resulted in the killing of thousands. Moreover, the then President of Iraq, Saddam Hussain, was hanged and this ceremony was broadcast live on television. Later on, the news of Iraq having ‘deadly chemical’ weapons turned out to be false. At least the news outlets then apologized to their viewers on account of the broadcast misinformation. I will wait for the time when the apology for the ‘death’ of 300 commandos in Bala Kote come out. The questions that the journalists in India are asking the Modi government, should also be asked from the media since it was pushing for a war which, if had happened, would’ve been deadlier than what the world experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pakistani media is commendable here for acting responsibly in all this war hysteria.
The first casualty when was breaks out is the ‘truth’. However, with a little precaution, the lie can be avoided. Few words, for instance – news from government source, unbiased source, according to the eye witnesses and someone claims etc give enough room to be safe.
All the journalists who apologized after the Iraq operation wrote that they didn’t attest the news beforehand because they were expecting bigger ‘scoops’. After 9/11, the world of journalist was flooded with fake and fabricated news. I still remember when American allied forces attacked Afghanistan, any army of foreign journalists marched towards Pakistan. They were always in search for local Taliban or extremist groups. They were willing to pay two hundred to three hundred dollars on daily basis in exchange for such information. Some local journalists even misused this opportunity especially in Peshawar, Quetta and some parts of Karachi, by interviewing local Pashtoons and portrayed them to be Taliban. Similarly, journalists acted ultra-vires during ‘Arab Spring’ as well.
Since I have worked in newspaper, foreign news agency and channels, I have a good idea of the pressure channels and news agencies face in comparison to newspapers. The day 9/11 happened, I was in my office in a foreign news agency. Suddenly, the office fax machine buzzed and we received a fax with ‘Lashkar Tayyaba’ letter-pad, claiming responsibly for the attack. For a moment I thought I had gotten the biggest ‘Breaking News’ of the world. News agencies and channels normally have a few seconds or a minute to check the legitimacy of the news. I could have published the news saying Lashkar claims responsibility, but I tried contacting the leader of the ‘Lashkar’ first. Then, I tried contacting their representative. When I couldn’t get in contact with either, I called my editor in Islamabad, who was a foreigner, and explained the situation to them. The editor published the news from Islamabad and it took no time that the news became the headlines of every news outlet. Not ten minutes later, the representative of Lashkar called me and said, “Mazhar Bai! This is false news and someone wants to throw us under the bus using our letter-pad. We have no connection with this attack. Moreover, we have always been against suicide attacks.”
News agency had to deny this news. My boss later apologized to me saying I was right to stop the news. Journalists are always in search for big news. If one finds something big which is legit as well, he is ecstatic and satisfied. If the news turns out to be fake, he is humiliated. Come to think of it, the concept of apologizing over publishing false news has become obsolete. Back in the day, a journalist would stand by his news because he had evidence to back up his claim. Unfortunately, things have changed and newspapers and channels now even stand by false news. One of the main reasons for presence of a strong journalist in an agency is that he can accept moral responsibility for publishing of false news.
Had the Pakistani media situation escalated to war after Pulwama attack, this news would have been published from another country. We are going to jeopardize the safety of the two countries, merely to get higher ratings. The thinks-tanks of India should thoroughly consider if this kind of media can ever be considered positive, and if this is the way to go by. There are examples of journalists who even put their lives in the line of fire to get legit news. The Iraq war claimed lives of more than four hundred journalists. Irony is, publishing news without checking its legitimacy claimed live of these journalists. I request Indian media not to convert news rooms into war rooms, reporters to soldiers and anchors to generals, or else, the sole reason for this war would be the media and how it manipulated the general perception and tried controlling the narrative. If American journalists can accept responsibility for false news after Iraq war, the least Indian media can do is accept the moral responsibility for false reporting and apologize. India media shouldn’t question Modi, but itself. Perhaps this would bring back the trust people had in journalism.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.