Minutes after Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday evening made a surprise announcement in the joint session of Parliament to free the captured Indian pilot as a ‘gesture of peace,’ one of the known anchors on a leading Indian news channel started screaming. He was telling his viewers that Pakistan would release Wing Commander Abhinandan and claimed this was an exclusive story, ‘The Times Now’ is breaking. Then the next minute the anchor went on to add “viewers, Prime Minister Imran Khan has just now officially confirmed the story we broke first.” It was funny and ridiculous at the same time because the channel portraying the story as its exclusive when the entire world already saw it live as the speech of the Prime Minister. The drama did not stop there. The said anchor then went to one of the channel’s reporters, who shared the so-called exclusive details as to how the decision was taken. The reporter, like his anchor, was literally screaming. He claimed that Pakistan had decided to free the Indian pilot after ‘tremendous pressure’ put on Prime Minister Imran by the US. He then concocted a story, telling his viewers that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier in the day spoke to Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and also to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. According to the reporter, Pompeo clearly told the Pakistani government that it had no option but to release the captured pilot.
The same channel started flashing tickers such as “Pakistan cracks under pressure.” Other channels took the same line. Some suggested that Modi’s muscular policy compelled Pakistan to bow on its knees. The guests, including defence experts appearing on those channels, portrayed the release of the pilot as “India’s victory.”
In a tense environment, it is understandable and not surprising that media on both sides pursue a narrative that suits their respective countries. But what is terrible is the manner with which Indian news channels, baying for blood, are brazenly flouting the basic principles of journalism. Pakistani media also has its issues. During the crisis, there was some element of jingoism but that was largely restricted only to one or two channels. But even those Pakistani channels were not up to the scratch of Indian media outlets in terms of creating war hysteria and distorting facts.
Journalists, who usually maintain some semblance of objectivity in India, also forgot basic ethics of journalism after India claimed to have carried out so-called air strikes targeting alleged terrorist camps inside Pakistan. Before even any official confirmation, the Indian media within hours of the ‘air strikes’ started claiming that hundreds of terrorists were killed. Many put the numbers between 300 and 500 without an iota of evidence.
Contrary to victory claims and celebrations, international media outlets debunked the success of Indian air strikes. The New York Times, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Reuters, to name a few, all have questioned the Indian claims of targeting the ‘terror camps’ in Balakot.
On the other hand, Pakistan handled the crisis more maturely. The capture of the Indian pilot was not less than a coup for Pakistan at a time when India was trying to establish ‘new normal.’ The evidence of Pakistan’s successful retaliation for the Indian incursion was something that even international media outlets, otherwise critical of Islamabad’s policies, found it difficult to ignore.
India may be treating Wing Commander Abhinandan as a hero and they have every right to do so since he was on a national duty. The facts on the ground can’t be altered and was aptly summed up by The New York Times intro—When an Indian fighter pilot who had been captured by Pakistan was released on Friday, it capped a humiliating episode for India and a surreal week for him.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2019.
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