Randomly tuning into the news a few days ago I came across a special segment of Zee News, called ‘Tal Thok Ke’ (Extra Strong). Their special segment was a not-so-surprisingly rabid and sensationalist statement, “Kya Baghdadi Ka Agla Nishaana India Hai?” (Is Baghdadi’s next target India?). The Zee News journalist excitedly looked into the camera and proclaimed this headline as the most important news of the day. After Paris, the ‘ISIS’ was heading towards India and by mobilising ‘wayward’ Indian youth, we too would have a terrorist attack inflicted on us like what happened in Paris.
As a viewer, I, and many others are being fed such news as ‘news’. And unfortunately, this programme was in Hindi, and was therefore reaching out to a much larger audience than an English channel does. The programme alleged that ‘sleeper cells’ of the ‘ISIS’ are operating around the country, particularly in the following states: Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, J&K and Tamil Nadu. ‘Khufiya’ (secretive) reports, which only Zee News had of course, also suggested that ISIS is slated to enter India through Kashmir. Rajnath Singh, Home Minister of India too was quoted as a reliable source who expressed his concern about the ‘youth of Kashmir’ being mobilised to join the ISIS and attack India. The Zee News reporter made a reference to ‘Love Jihad’ and how it may be one of the methods being used by the ISIS to attack Indians. Another thing that attracted my attention was how every reference to ISIS had a flag of Pakistan beside it as if to suggest that Pakistan may be the reason behind the youth in India joining the organization. Zee News even made an effort to draw a map showcasing how the ISIS may enter India. On the map, what was noteworthy was the fact that Urdu/Arabic words were spattered across the Islamic nations, making it difficult for a person like me, not well-versed with the two languages to understand what was written. But why should those scripts be used to demarcate the countries? Was the point to scare people about an ‘impending’ Islamic invasion of ‘India’?
As a responsible citizen, I want to highlight the following points which I think are necessary to be taken into account while looking at reporting like this:
1. Firstly, it’s not ISIS – it’s IS or Daesh. The full form of IS is Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and this name change happened nearly a year ago to distinguish this organization from other organizations. Their aim as they state is total war against all pro-Western ideologies.
2. The IS isn’t the most ‘dangerous’ thing to afflict the world right now. According to Middle East Studies specialist, Fawaz Gerges, the weakest link of IS as a movement is its ‘poverty of ideas’. It’s the larger terrorist network that is in fact the most dangerous thing to tackle right now. IS’s recruiting tactics aren’t based on enmity towards one country or an attempt at establishing an ‘Islamic state’. With their call to total war, they aim to appeal to disaffected Sunni youth around the world. What should be a larger concern should be that those youth who are marginalized around the world should be allowed to participate in the country’s economy and be assimilated into the social strata, to prevent them from being affected by radical elements
3. Kashmir has been a controversial topic for India for a long time. Politicians who do address the issue conveniently overlook the implementation of AFSPA on the state and blame Kashmiri youth for resorting to militarism to meet their demand for independence of Kashmir. There is concern within the Indian administration that Kashmiris are increasingly looking to join Pakistan, but such allegations have little supporting evidence.
I believe that the Zee News style of reporting is extremely problematic. People tune into popular news channels primarily to gain knowledge about issues they aren’t aware of. If channels like Zee News are sensationalising issues and providing a wrong context to the whole IS debate, then how can we blame those who do hear the news and then agitate against a particular community for harbouring intentions similar to the IS?
The Zee News anchor tried her best to validate her opinion by asking two ‘experts’ to join her show – both ex-military servicemen. Colonel Shafqat Sayeed from Pakistan also joined them, but the whole debate turned around from the larger concern of the “ISIS” ‘entering India from Pakistan and Afghanistan to ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism’ and how 26/11 showcases that Pakistan supports ‘terrorism’.
As a media professional myself, I am ashamed to admit that yes, a huge chunk of mainstream media is largely responsible for creating a negative image of Pakistan in our heads, and for sensationalising news just to garner more ratings. Gone are the days of conscientious reporting. Facts and statistics are thrown out of the window during any news debate nowadays, and unfortunately, the larger issue of IS and terrorism remained largely unaddressed in the Zee News ‘debate’. Personally, I feel that the Paris attacks are a sign that increasing marginalization of youth across the world, primarily because of the religion they profess will simply motivate them to enlist in organizations that promise them revenge against the ‘other’. More than the fact that India should be scared of the IS because it is according to some, a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, we should take note of the fact that terrorism can be created on anybody’s soil, all it needs are people willing to believe in that ideology. And biased and unsubstantiated reporting like this one only makes this task for those people easier.