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Use Of Media In Conflict Situations

Kudrat Soin Writes:

The media has the power of delivering strong messages that influence its viewers greatly — negatively or positively. The role that the media of the country played in the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman whose jet was shot down resulting in his capture in POK, is the perfect example to understand media influence and its possible result. The pressure created by Indian media played a huge role in the expeditious return of the Wing Commander. On the other hand, the confident and  brave visage, body language and words of the officer aided the media in perhaps influencing the Pakistani decision makers. The Pakistani establishment when they were letting their own media air videos of the apprehension of the officer, did not realise that the demeanour of the officer on media would harm their narrative. The unstated fear that our pilot may suffer at the hands of the Pakistanis subsided as support for his release came from all over the globe. The media played a constructive role in media framing the pilot as a hero who behaved in a dignified manner and shared minimal information about the operation[1].

Responsible media reporting is an absolute necessity of any country. The Kargil war coverage helps us understand the need for balanced and sensitive reporting that was telecasted during the Kargil War in 1999. The media coverage during the war had a huge impact on the sentiments of the citizens of the country and in rallying public opinion. It was “India’s first war on television”. The media significantly changed the way the public viewed and perceived a war. The continuous reporting of the Kargil War created an emotional connection between the public and the soldiers. It also exposed Pakistan’s vile intentions to the world leading to international isolation[2]. Credit cannot be taken away from Major General (later Lieutenant General) Arjun Ray who was designated as the media coordinator. He ensured media reporting in consonance with the defence planning and actual operations. It was the right policy decision to have a senior knowledgeable officer to coordinate media reporting.

Another example that brings out the concept of responsible media was the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks which according to many, were recklessly covered and telecasted by Indian media. It was given 24-hour media coverage and Twitter gave out instant time to time updates of the horrific event. Full account and information were given out by onlookers. Even scenes and details of hostages inside the buildings along with the hotel were telecast live on various news channels. Important rescue operation details were broadcasted only to be easily picked up by the handlers of the terrorists in Pakistan who could then guide their actions and motivate them. This includes the live coverage of the slithering down of the NSG commandos on the roof of Chabad house. This thoughtless broadcasting of 26/11 placed many lives in danger[3].

The above examples clearly show that the media needs to be tactful and careful in the coverage of national crisis situations. An added issue during such crisis situations is fake news. During the Pulwama attack and the subsequent events the hectic sharing of information on social media platforms also included fake news. There was no regulation on the issue and no self-restraint was seen. Steps were taken to slow down sharing of fake news and various platforms were asked to take down all videos of the pilot by the IT Ministry. This brings out the need for sensible and credible information to be vetted and released and setting up checks and balances[4]. It also brings out that the concerned government agencies need to get involved with checks and balances.

End Notes

[1] https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/mar/03/how-social-media-shifted-indias-focus-to-wing-commander-abhinandan-varthamans-release-1946112.html

[2] https://www.udayavani.com/english-news/kargil-war-1999-the-impact-of-media-coverage-during-the-conflict

[3] https://thewire.in/media/26-11-mumbai-attack-media-coverage

[4] Ibid

 

Kudrat Soin is an intern with the Editorial Team, The United Service Institution of India, New Delhi. She researches and writes on media related security issues.
Article uploaded on: 28-10-2021
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.

 

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