Indian TV channels have become 'graphic war rooms'
Manasi Gopalakrishnan Interview
March 1, 2019
Indian journalists are being pressured to conform to the official narrative on Pakistan. Ravish Kumar from Indian broadcaster NDTV told DW that those who don't comply have faced public ridicule on social media.
DW: How do you view the reporting in Indian media about the recent developments between India and Pakistan?
Ravish Kumar: The reporting [on the current crisis] by Indian TV channels is quite bad. They are not reporting on the conflict as much as they are using the conflict as an excuse to build up the ruling party's electoral prospects in the upcoming general elections. The intention of this warmongering is to polarize people and consolidate votes.
We have the problem of unemployment, for example, and many other issues that have recently emerged. They haven't been addressed over the past five years. All these issues have been bypassed. The media is using "experts" to legitimize their [the ruling party's] propaganda. I have appealed to people that for the next one and a half months, they should not watch television at all to avoid listening to this warmongering.
It seems that most journalists in India are facing pressure to conform to the official narrative. What's your take on this?
We are under pressure because if the general mood is tuned toward warmongering, we have to decide between catering to this mood and reporting factual information. This has become a big challenge. For example, the chief of the Indian air force has not said exactly how many people were killed in the airstrike that India carried out.
The officials said they didn't know and it would be premature to say anything now. But there are different figures circulating in the media. Some say 400 were killed, some say 650 were killed — even senior journalists were not immune from saying them. All kinds of wrong information are being circulated under the pretext of senior officials speaking "off the record." Even the Indian air force has said there is a lot of misinformation in the media. So it's difficult to report on facts in such a scenario.
If you see other news channels, they used old videos to simulate the conflict. News channels have become "graphic war rooms." Journalists who stick to factual reporting are very few and because their peers are reporting in another way, they think: "Why am I the only one talking about facts?"
There is a lot of pressure on the viewers as well, as they are unable to ascertain the facts. Instead of presenting information, television channels are continuously showing discussions between experts. These talks are mostly based on perception and imaginary scenarios, like what will happen if someone does this, or that. So basically, the media has crossed all boundaries and is calling for war. In fact, some reporters are even using phrases like, "Is the election important or is action [against Pakistan] more important?"
Has Pakistan's decision to release a captured Indian pilot as a peace gesture not made any impact on the media reporting in India?
People in India have appreciated Pakistan's gesture, but then even that has been twisted in the media with headlines like "Pakistan surrenders" or "Pakistan succumbs." I have said in all my three shows that while we are seeing the heroism of the Indian air force, we're also witnessing the decline of the Indian media. I said right from the beginning that you can't trust these news anchors.
The day India undertook the airstrike against Pakistan, many newspapers distributed free copies to people. Many unverified claims were magnified and the whole affair has been converted to serve a political agenda.
Do you think this whole episode will have any impact on the upcoming general elections?
We don't know if this reporting will make a difference in the upcoming elections. If someone is unemployed, he or she needs to think whether he wants to vote based on job prospects or based on what the media says about the India-Pakistan tensions.
The BJP government and its members are very excited, with many believing that the Indian offensive would help the party win seats in the elections. In places like Allahabad, for example, posters have appeared showing PM Narendra Modi with pictures of Mirage 2000 jets and boasting about his victory against Pakistan. So the imagery of the election campaign has now completely changed.
Ravish Kumar is an Indian TV journalist and media personality who covers topics pertaining to Indian politics and society.
The interview was conducted by Manasi Gopalakrishnan.