Objectivity need of the hour, say Indian, Pakistani scribes

New Delhi, April 15 (Inditop) Nearly five months after 26/11, candour and introspection marked a seminar of Pakistani and Indian journalists and writers here Wednesday, as they admitted they sometimes tended to speak in the “language of the secret services”.

The conference at the India International Centre took a broad, overarching view of how the media in both India and Pakistan reported events following the Nov 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and analysed whether their reporting whipped up jingoism and created war hysteria.

Those present were taken by surprise when members of the rightwing Sri Rama Sene, which hit the public eye with its attack on women in a Mangalore pub in January this year, tried to disrupt the seminar, shouting slogans against Pakistan. But they were soon pushed out.

Booker-winning author Arundhati Roy, who was one of the speakers, called for greater introspection on the roots of the Mumbai attacks rather than focusing on the identity of the attackers.

Roy tried to suggest that incidents like 26/11 and a growing proliferation of “poisonous ideologies” in the region was linked to the unresolved Kashmir dispute.

“There have been accusations and counter-accusations. But there is a silence about why Mumbai happened,” she said.

“Kashmir is at the centre of it. Everybody wants to ignore it and nobody wants to talk about it,” she said.

In a polemical strain, Roy, the author of “The God of Small Things”, called for “a summit of ‘gaddars’ (traitors) who are prepared to betray party lines” to discuss and resolve these issues that divide the two countries.

Transcending the border divide, journalists from both sides underlined the need for objectivity and balanced reporting in sensitive situations like the Mumbai attacks in which over 170 people were killed by Pakistan-based terrorists.

Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist famous for his interview with terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, spoke about the pressures facing Pakistani journalists in the North West Frontier Province and risks they face on a daily basis in performing their duties.

“Many journalists have been killed and many have been forced to give up. There are so many risks and pressures,” he said.

He also spoke about the tendency of the media to parrot what the secret services are saying without independent verification.

Many journalists felt the role of the media in setting the agenda for India-Pakistan relations was limited. “The media’s impact on India-Pakistan relations is overestimated,” said Bharat Bhushan, editor, The Daily Mail.

Swapan Dasgupta, known for his rightwing views, agreed saying the media’s ability to shape the discourse of India-Pakistan relations was limited.

He, however, said that nationalism is inseparably bound with reporting on issues relating to India and Pakistan. “Nationalism is a powerful force and it will continue to be a powerful force,” he said.

Pakistani fashion journalist Muniba Kamal made a case for a nuanced understanding of the problem of terrorism saying the poverty-ridden background of Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist captured during the Mumbai attacks, is important to understanding the problem of terrorism.

Kamal also contended that the Mumbai attacks could not have happened without local support from some alienated Indian Muslims.

Indian journalists lauded the independence of the Pakistani media and singled out their initiative to trace Kasab’s roots to Faridkot when the Pakistani government was in denial about his nationality.