Since the news of the beheading of two Indian soldiers at Krishna Ghati sector of Kashmir’s Poonch district broke on May 1, several Indian TV channels have gone into a hyper nationalist mode. “Do ke badley saat” (seven to avenge two), “karaara jawab” (stinging reply) – the aggressive eye-for-eye headlines screaming at us from news channels would perhaps have been a little more palatable if there was an element of truth in them.
Unverified news and videos of retaliation by the Indian forces have cropped up at least twice in the last month and turned into major chest-thumping moments – only to be debunked later by official sources. Just take a look at how some sections of the media are dishing out a nationalist agenda and drumming up mass euphoria over unverified news stories. This is a strange primetime competitive nationalism between national TV channels at play.
Following news reports of the mutilation of Indian soldiers, The Times of India quoting sources reported that, “government gives army free hand to avenge Pakistan’s mutilation act”. General Bipin Rawat who was in Kashmir, promised an appropriate retribution. Without divulging any details he told reporters, “we do not talk about future plans beforehand. We share details after execution of the plan.” Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Sarath Chand said the Army would respond to the incident at “a time and place of its choosing”.
Breaking News on the basis of unverified sources
But this all makes for boring copy. And what is life without some jingo-ism? Therefore, some sections of the media decided not to wait for an official confirmation before announcing news of retaliation.
On the evening of May 1 itself, Aaj Tak brought us news of how India had destroyed two army posts of Pakistan, Kirpan and Pimpal, and killed seven Pakistani soldiers. Gaurav Sawant, Executive Editor at India Today confirmed in a tweet that it was not even the beginning of India’s real response. “2 Pak posts that gave cover fire to Pak BAT razed to the ground, army sources tell me & this is not even the beginning of India’s real response.”
Sweta Singh, Executive Editor Programming at Aaj Tak added to Sawant’s tweet, and wrote, “This is what my Army is capable of. As an Indian need to see what my government can do. Army retaliates. Govt has to ensure Pak can’t act”. These two tweets summed up the mood which reigns in some newsrooms – to show that India can give a “karara jawaab” to Pakistan – whether or not what is being reported is true.
These tweets were followed up by detailed and repeated coverage on various channels.
“India retaliates” screamed the banner on the TV screen. “India gives a befitting reply to Pakistan’s barbarism” tweeted India Today. Pak posts along LoC destroyed, claimed the video. It was India v/s #ButcherArmy. It was all about a befitting reply, that too in the language that Pakistan understood.
Zee News, spoke of that same “karara jawab” whereby three Pakistani posts were destroyed. The earlier reports had claimed it was two posts.
By the time the news reached print publications, the number of Pakistan soldiers killed had become 10, as reported in this story by Dainik Jagran.
Others who covered the story were ABP News and India TV. Several online portals too carried the story.
The official denial
Sadly for the news channels and news outlets which had been doing the jingoistic high-jump, holes began to appear in this story as soon as it was realised that Kirpan was not a Pakistani post. Manu Pubby, senior editor at Economic Times was the first to highlight this.
When Hindustan Times contacted official sources in the Army and Ministry of External Affairs, they were informed that no such retaliation had taken place. In the report, “Army denies retaliation over mutilation, says TV channels go ballistic without confirming”, the military spokesperson tells HT, “A lot of planning goes into any army action. We will respond but at apt time and place.”. He also said, “We will retaliate and when we do, we will come out with an official statement”.
The silent meltdown
Despite the denial, none of the channels who carried the story issued a correction. They simply stopped broadcasting the news.
Without stating that their news report had got the facts totally wrong, India Today simply edited its story and removed the names of the posts – as it was clear by then that Kirpan was not even a Pakistani post. Alt News very kindly has posted screenshots of the page before and after the removal of this information.
The retaliation was forgotten the next day. India Today ran the hashtag #IndiaFirst and wanted to know “will India mount surgical strike 2.0 after mutilation of jawans?” News stories of former army officers demanding retribution and a high-profile meeting of ministers to be held at the Prime Minister’s residence to discuss the plan of action against Pakistan, were reported but with no mention of the previous day’s news being incorrect. The discussion was back to teaching Pakistan a lesson. There were discussions on what India could do and the pros and cons of military and diplomatic action – through it all there not a murmur of the earlier report which had claimed a retaliation had already taken place.
It didn’t find a mention in Aaj Tak’s report either, despite Aaj Tak breaking the retaliatory attack news first.
Practice makes perfect?
A week later, Times Now broadcast a video of India’s latest retaliation (which as we soon found out, never took place). “Pakistani post flattened along Line of Control (LoC) in 60 seconds by Indian Army” was tweeted out. The text on the news channel told us how India had avenged beheadings with a “Massive counter offensive”. It was “time for a jaw for a tooth” and “Pak’s cowardly act punished”.
India avenging the death of its jawans was big news and the video was also tweeted out by Economic Times.
Zee News on DNA, didn’t mince words as it bragged about the strike and attacked not just Pakistan but also anyone who had questioned the government response so far. The language was dramatic. It was about how Pakistan ki “dhajjian udan di” as they targeted not just Pakistan but an imaginary enemy within.
“Bhartiya sena ki gusse ki aag ne sirf 1 min 41 sec mein Pakistan ko jala dala.” (The fire of the Indian Army’s anger has incinerated Pakistan in just 1 min 41 sec.)
“1 min 41 sec ka video jo desh ki sena par sawal uthane walon ko sharminda kar dega”. (The 1 min 41 sec video which will shame those who questioned the Indian army)
“Bharat mein moujood Pakistan ke bhakton ki raton ki neend cheen-ney vala video” (The video which will give sleepless nights to Pakistan-lovers living in India)
“Surgical strike ka saboot mangney walon ko prastut hai aaj ka dhamakedar video” (Are those asking for proof of the surgical strike, ready for this earthshattering video?)
ABP News tweeted about “India’s befitting reply to #Pakistan: Several posts destroyed; continuous firing underway”
The video, which by now was viral on social media was also aired by India Today. “Caught on camera: How Indian Army destroyed Pakistan bunkers along LoC”. According to India Today sources, this was the very post used by Pakistani militants to infiltrate Indian soil.\
Second time as dodgy?
This time, it was Shiv Aroor who raised doubts about the video. “Undated video going viral of Indian Army position destroying Pakistan Army bunkers along the LoC. Not likely very recent, but awesome!”, he tweeted. Not that awesome was that India Today was still touting it as a new video. But hey, don’t let us ruin the awesomeness.
To this Gaurav Sawant added that the video was apparently of April 17, 2017 and that there were reports of eight Pak army fatalities in that attack. Over the next few hours it became clear that although the video was real, it was not a video of Indian retaliation to the beheadings.
The Times of India reported, citing their sources, that, “The incident took place last month during an unprovoked ceasefire violation from Pakistan. I cannot confirm exact location at this point of time…The retaliation is planned but we can’t share any details about it”. It was the circle of life of unverified reports – chest thumping followed by Opposition bashing followed by denial, and repeat.
So it seems we are back to where we started. As stated by the army on multiple occasions, they will retaliate at a time and place of their choosing and when they do, they will issue a statement. Irrespective of what the official stand is, so far, several of our national news channels have already carried out two rounds of retaliatory attacks on Pakistan to avenge the beheadings.
As seen from both the examples above, news reporting does not seem to be about facts anymore. Some sections of the media have set a nationalist agenda to cater to their audience which seem to be baying for revenge. The newsroom has turned into a warzone (anchors walk around in flak jackets) and the channels are competing with each other to be the first to break the news. The “news” itself is from unconfirmed sources. There is no fact-checking with official sources before broadcasting this news. A build-up is created and emotions are whipped up thanks to the carefully chosen language of retribution. In a manufactured chest-thumping event, the army and the government are cheered, even if it eventually turns out to be for actions that never took place. Days are spent discussing a manufactured agenda, diverting the debate away from the real issues facing the people. And from fact, instead of fiction.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this entire drama is that once the news is denied by official sources, there is complete silence from those who raced to break it. There is no retraction or apology whatsoever. We have now seen this pattern repeat itself. And this leads us to a disturbing question about the credibility of the media – if the media has such low regard for facts, whom can we trust?
The author can be contacted on Twitter @samjawed65