#BBCFootage: It’s good to question news outlets, but base it on specifics

This episode is a wake-up call to journalists to go on facts, not ideology or political alliances.

WrittenBy:Abhinandan Sekhri
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The home ministry issued this statement regarding the “said incident in Saura region of #Srinagar” which clarified that there was an incident of “unprovoked stone pelting”. It is safe to assume the government of India is referring to the clip released by BBC, which has been the point of contention between several journalists with very clear positions for or against the government and everything it does. The government these news professionals are defending has basically thrown them under the bus. 

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The problem with taking a position based on your ideological or political allegiances is that when such a clarification is issued, one ends up looking silly which is never a desirable proposition—especially if you’re a journalist on social media. The footage that BBC released had a few things that were undisputable unless one has firm evidence to the contrary (which no one has yet presented): 

1. The location was, in fact, Kashmir and not Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK). This was clear by the boards and signage visible in the footage.

2. The crowds were protesting against what went down after August 4, when Amit Shah tabled the Bill to amend Article 370. So, it was not old footage. 

Alt News has explained this here

The video clip released by BBC also made a few other claims (in text), one of which was: “The BBC witnessed police in Kashmir opening fire and using tear gas to disperse the crowd.”

What isn’t clear or demonstrable from the footage is whether any shots were in fact fired because all we hear is a quick blast of a few loud bangs. This could be actual gunfire, they could be blanks creating a sound without any bullet being fired, or possibly pellet guns or tear gas shells going off. I don’t know how different that sound is from the sound of an actual gunshot with live cartridges. I suspect many of the sceptics don’t either. 

There has been no case reported by any journalist on the ground—and there are several—of any gunshot victims. There has been no claim in any report by any local Kashmiri civilian of seeing gunfire or recovering a bullet, so the claims of gunfire by BBC can be endorsed if one wants to believe BBC. But there is no evidence of it being outright false either for those who want to question the Beeb. Based on how credible you consider BBC, one can choose to believe or reject the claim of police “opening fire”. But what one clearly can’t reject are the two “undisputable points” made above. 

So it was not a “fake video”, whatever that means. However, those who wanted to toe the government line of there being complete peace and no violence suddenly have egg on their face. 

It is a sign of our times that journalists who, till six years ago, would not believe any claim of the government of India (the United Progressive Alliance at the time), now rather shamelessly retweet government statements to try and prove their peers wrong without realising how silly they look. Those who remain relevant by pointing fingers at journalists who they see as friendly to previous governments don’t hesitate in hailing a government statement as the final word. There is no reason one should not question news outlets, no matter what their international reputation or legacy. But it has to be on the basis of some specifics. Not general “fake news” chants or a government denial.

This episode is a wake-up call to not go by an ideological or political affinity but only facts that are clearly visible. Any journalist publicly making a fool of himself or herself damages all journalists and journalism in general. It hurts the news ecosystem. Those thinking BBC can’t make a mistake should have a healthy scepticism and those who think that the government of India can never tell a lie—I don’t even know what to say. 

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