Ranjona Banerji: Foreign policy dictated by news anchors?

18 Jul,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The journalist as patriot was in full flow this week on Indian TV as a sometime journalist and sometime who knows what, Ved Prakash Vaidik revealed that he had met the dreaded Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan a few months ago. Saeed is suspected of being involved in the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, amongst other attacks on India, and his free movement in Pakistan has long been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan.

 

But the high level of outrage on Indian television was extraordinary. Vaidik himself revealed that he had met Saeed and certainly, it is curious that he never wrote about it since it would have been something of a journalistic coup. There were also allegations that he was part of some “Track 2” diplomacy process, as a delegation that went to Pakistan. Connections between the ISI and Saeed are constantly talked about in India, so Vaidik’s meeting could well have had an ISI hand.

 

The question is, should the Indian media have tried to prise out of Vaidik what he and Saeed had talked about – thus looking for a “story” and insights into a feared India-baiter and suspected controller of anti-India terrorists? Journalists meet all kinds of people, often those seen as unacceptable by society. Instead, the TV media jumped into jingoistic mode and decided that any contact with Saeed was equal to treason.

 

The worst in this aspect was undoubtedly Arnab Goswami of Times Now. India was on red alert because Vaidik met Saeed months ago and the nation’s integrity and future was at stake. It is true that Pakistan is a sore point with Goswami and the cynic might suggest that since the terror attack of 2008 put his channel on the media map, he feels strongly about that too. But bashing Vaidik and then bashing anyone who has ever attended a seminar on India-Pakistan matters was taking a very serious matter into the realm of the ridiculous.

 

One would suggest that if Times Now felt so strongly about any interaction with Pakistan at all, it should have picketed our neighbour’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif when he attended the new prime minister’s coronation ceremony. Because more than Vaidik and seminar-goers, it is the Pakistani establishment which has the closest ties to the ISI and to various anti-India terrorist organisations.

 

Does this kind of enforced hysteria make for good television? How far is it sustainable before turns into farce? Has it reached there already? The point of journalism is not to hold a patriotism competition – journalists have to be able to rise above or below that level to search for the story. Even given that TV news is not always strictly journalism, do we want our foreign policy dictated by news anchors who foam at the mouth at just about anything?

 

The funny thing is, in a week this great insult to India has been forgotten and we are now worried about the great insult to Tamil culture and the dhoti/veshti by some club in Chennai.

 

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The crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine has divided the world and the world’s media. Was the plane shot down by Ukraine’s forces or by Russian separatist rebels? This question has now consumed the world’s media, with different sides making different claims. The western media believes the plane was hit by Russian rebels, the Russian media blames Ukraine. It is no longer possible to wait for the news before making allegations and jumping to conclusions.

 

The most ridiculous coverage came from CNN where the anchor asked an American freelance journalist who happened to be at the crash site whether he had seen anyone find the black box. Stunned silence from the journalist who then said he had not. Meanwhile, other channels were assuring us that the black box had been found.

 

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For the first time in many years, Israel has been getting very bad press the world over about its behaviour in Gaza. However if you are interested in some disingenuous defence of Israel, here’s CNN again, for a confused interpretation of the US policy on Israel and plenty of blame for Hamas.

 

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Having slammed the weather bureau of the BCC World Service for years over its ignorance of the Indian monsoon and what it means for India, am happy to report that in the past week, we are hearing a lot about the monsoon all over the country. No breathless assurances of fine dry sunny weather in drought affected areas.

 

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