THE DUAL ROLE OF MEDIA IN INDO-PAK PEACE PROCESS:
FROM “AMAN KI ASHA” TO “PROPAGANDA WARFARE”

BY FIZZA BATOOL
MS, DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS,
UNIVERSITY OF KARACHI
OCTOBER, 2013


Ross Howard called media “the double-edged sword” as it can be a dreadful tool of violence and a very worthwhile instrument of peace, depending on how it processes the information and how it delivers it to the audience.[1] History, however, seems to show just one blade of this sword – the negative manipulation of public sentiments by proselytizing messages of fanaticism, racism, and chauvinism and by propagating misinformation by print and electronic media. It was media that propagated anti-semetism among German population before holocaust.[2] It was also media that led to ethno-religious massacre of Muslims in Bosnia[3] and ethnic slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda.[4] Even today, media is being criticized for spreading hatred against refugees, immigrants, and minorities.[5] However, the stories of responsible role of media in propagating peace and stability are hard to find and it appears that this role was under neglect by both practitioners and researchers.

The purpose of writing this paper is to highlight this neglected role of media in the context of Pakistan and India and to see how this shifting of role from peace lover to war monger by the Pakistani and Indian media has affected the peace process of the region. My main argument in this paper is that the media in both countries has not yet accepted their peace promoting responsibility despite some initiative on paper. Media is playing a dual role as, on one hand, it is making alliances and getting foreign funds for establishing peace through preparing friendly environment for formal peace talks and, on the other hand, it is busy in its sensational reporting to promote hatred against the neighbouring country.

Much has been said in the literature about the role of media in promoting conflict and wars where it was identified that media is being controlled by any of the party of conflicts to gain public support for their objective.[6] However, quite recently, peace scholars realized the importance of the role of media in fostering peace in any conflict zone and a lot of debate has been launched in this regard.

Media can influence the peace process in four different ways, as pointed out by Wolfsfeld. These are:
  1. Defining the political atmosphere
  2. Devising the nature of debate about the peace process
  3. Changing the antagonists’ strategy and behaviour
  4. Raising and lowering the public standing and legitimacy of antagonists [7]

In the case of Pakistan and India, media active in promoting peace has remained focused only on the first influence. However, not much has been made to change the antagonist’s behaviour or lowing public standing or legitimacy of antagonists. One very good evidence of this neglect of changing antagonistic behaviour and to de-legitimize the antagonism is evident in the objective of “Aman ki Asha,” a peace alliance between daily Jung group of Pakistan and Times of India group of India, that says “to create an enabling environment to facilitate dialogue between the governments, encourage people-to-people contacts and thus contribute to bringing about peace between India and Pakistan.”[8] As can be noted, the objective is entirely focused on environment creation and there is no mentioning of other important roles media can play in this regard. It seriously devalues the importance of media in peace process.  

Another point of concern is the abrupt shift in the role of media at times of clashes. Most of the activities performed under Aman ki Asha platform are being conducted at times when there is no serious clash between the two countries. However, at times of crisis, when role of media ought to be highly positive one, in order to suppress the negative feelings and to counter the hawkish arguments, media on both sides try to get gains from the situation. People at times of crisis are emotional and media uses that emotion to gain audience and make business. As put by Imtiaz Gul, “Media on both sides of the border … live and thrive off a contentious style of reporting and analysis, at the cost of established journalistic norms that are fast fading in the face of the quest for breaking news and ratings.”[9]

For instance, during the recent border clashes between Pakistan and India, the media, particularly the Indian news media, played a very negative role by exaggerating the situation and promoting negative sentiments across the borders.[10] Even media was found to misinform the public by making news out of speculation about mutilation of Indian soldiers’ bodies by Pakistan army, which ultimately resulted in creating hype against the opposite party to the conflict and public pressure to derail the dialogue process.[11] The most ironic is the way news is being reported by the two news groups directly involved in “Aman ki Asha.”  

A very preliminary analysis of the some news clippings reported in Times of India and The News during border clashes revealed several negative words and phrases that go against the objective of creating environment for promoting dialogue. For instance, while reporting the border clash, Times of India held that Pakistani forces “attacked” an Indian posts, “intruded” into India territory and “ambushed” the posts[12] – all terms directly associated with war. Similarly,The News while reporting that Pakistan was not involved in these killings adopted a very pro-Pakistan tone with claims that this attack is based on only “Indian media allegations.” [13]

The best approach both should have adopted is to report the facts and to explain what both parties to the conflict are claiming instead of telling the story from one perspective without taking into account the claims of the other side. Pakistani report has, to some extent, mentioned the Indian claim yet the report by Indian paper totally lacks this important element. However, one cannot reach any conclusion through this preliminary analysis and cannot conclude that Pakistani media has played a less negative role as compared to Indian media. The point of consideration is that, whether less or more, media on both sides have failed in playing their role for promoting peace.

One major obstacle to peace process in India and Pakistan is the negative sentiments of public against each other. Peace initiatives like “Aman ki Asha,” with its limited approach and uncommitted behaviour, cannot bring an end to this antagonistic attitude toward each other. They will have to make real changes in their reporting system, should devise a code of conduct, and should have a monitoring system to ensure that members of media peace groups are complying with the codes. They ought to understand that they are the ones having power of discourse and without the right use of this power, peace is impossible in this region. As aptly remarked by Shamshad Ahmed, “In the absence of ‘Aman ki Bhasha’, the much touted ‘Aman ki Asha’ is doomed to remain ‘Aman ki Nirasha’.” [14]

 

 

End Notes

  1. Ross Howard, An Operational Framework for Media and Peace building (Vancouver: Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, 2002), 1.
  2. William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 12-32.
  3. Michael A. Sells, The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (London: University of California, 1996), 103. 159.
  4. Mark Thompson, Forging war: the media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bedfordshire: University of Luton, 1999) 209-308.
  5. Amir Saeed, "Media, racism and Islamophobia: the representation of Islam and Muslims in the media." Sociology Compass, Vol. 1, no. 2 (2007): 443-462; Raymond Narin, Frank Pega, Tim McCreanor, Jenny Rankine, and Angela Barnes. "Media, racism and public health psychology." Journal of Health Psychology Vol. 11, no. 2 (2006): 183-196; Christoph Butterwegge, "Mass media, immigrants and racism in Germany. A contribution to an ongoing debate." Communications Vol. 21, no. 2 (1996): 203-220.
  6. W.A. Hachten, The world news prism: Changing media of international communication (Ames: University of Iowa Press, 1999).
  7. Gadi Wolfsfeld, Media and the Path to Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 11.
  8. “What is Aman ki Asha, who initiated it, and why?” Aman ki Asha. Last accessed October 3, 2013, http://amankiasha.com/faqs.asp
  9. Imtiaz Gul, “Analysis: Indo-Pak relations and the curse of 24/7 TV” The Express Tribute, May 23, 2013, p. 7.
  10. Ali Ahmed, “Dear Indian media, please stop spreading hate” The Express Tribute, January 10, 2013. Last accessed October 3, 2013. http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15573/dear-indian-media-please-stop-spreading-hate/
  11. Beena Sarwar, “LoC tensions: need facts, not hype” Press for Peace, January 20, 2013. Last accessed October 3, 2013, http://pressforpeace.blogspot.com/2013/01/loc-tensions-need-facts-not-hype.html
  12. “Pakistan army violates ceasefire, kills five Indian soldiers at LoC” Selection from Regional Press, Vol. 22 No. 15 (2013), 1.  
  13. Mariana Baabar, “Pakistan rejects claims of India media on LoC incursions” The News, August 7, 2013, p. 1.
  14. Shamshad Ahmed, “Aman ki Nirasha” The Nation, August 27, 2013, p. 7.