Toeing the U.S. media line
Throughout the coverage of the rising tension in Iraq, no channel or private news network has been able to do anything more than repeat what has already been said, heard and seen from America, observes ZIYA US SALAM, analysing the scene.
BBC's `Hard Talk' host, Tim Sebastian. Pic. by S. Subramanium.
ANOTHER WAR is upon us. Iraq does not want it. Iraqis cannot afford it. Day in, day out, CNN, BBC and others have been beaming the imminent war into our drawing rooms. Strangely, Indian media is more pliant than ever before. And private news channels which rushed their correspondents for coverage of Oscars and Golden Globe, cricket tour of England and New Zealand, could not care less. Whether it is Aaj Tak, Star News or Zee News, every news bulletin in recent weeks has begun with tardy political developments back home Mayawati's birthday, Congress's change of guard in Maharashtra, Cabinet reshuffle. And when the focus shifts to international affairs, it is merely to tell us what the American President George Bush has to say about "treacherous" Saddam Hussein whose "word" is not in consonance with "facts", whose deeds are "dastardly" and whose "time is running out"... words which our channels have accepted, in fact, lapped up. Matters little that this act of theirs is against India's age-old foreign policy. And even the current Government's tilt toward Iraq in the whole affair.
Well, we don't need Aaj Tak or Star News to tell us what Bush and his accomplices are saying. CNN does that just fine. Thank you. What we need, and don't get from our satellite channels, is the coverage of global anti-war protests. And the possible causes of the war. Every day from London to Seoul, from Cairo to Manila, people believing that peace is a form of patriotism too, have been out on the streets, shouting themselves hoarse, trying to point out the futility of a war. Only thing is our channels won't listen. Or film the protests. And this in a country where masses across the barriers of religion, region, caste and creed united against the British during the Khilafat agitation in 1919! A country, which experienced a stirring when there was French Revolution, which was inspired by the ideals of the American War of Independence!
In these `Modified' times, is this a subtle attempt to give communal colour to what is an international issue? Strangely, throughout the coverage of the rising tension in Iraq, no channel or even any private news network has been able to do anything more than repeat what has already been said, heard and seen from America. Tony Blair explained his stand and All India Radio repeated his words in as many languages as it broadcasts! But not a word from Iraq, its President, its luckless people who stand to lose the most in the war!
Rajdeep Sardesai, STAR News newsreader and one of the moderators on `The Big Fight'.
This week, all the three premier private newscasters Aaj Tak, Zee News and Star News began their coverage of international issues in their prime evening bulletins with what the American President had to say about Iraq and how time was running out for the beleaguered leader. Again, not one of them talked at any length about the peace protests across the world. And all attempts at striking a balance were lopsided at best. For instance, Aaj Tak gave sufficient space to what Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had to tell the U.S. "Big power is expected to show big restraint. There is need for patience," said the PM. Other channels said something similar.
The other day, Aaj Tak showed Iraqis ready to die for Saddam Hussein and a little bit about the peace-marchers from England. No mention of the global opinion against the war. Not a word beyond that, not a visual more.
When the world cried for peace, these channels blinked and when Bush winked with one of his game-plans, they were happy to applaud, to reproduce, to report. Hence, we had expansive shots of the U.S. President giving a catalogue of the ills committed by Saddam Hussein, how his people had been "blinded, mutilated, raped and murdered". He talked about the 3,900 lives lost in the New York blasts and observed the anniversary with leaders from across the world gathering in America; and said not a word about the loss of 3,600 lives in Afghanistan in America's retaliatory strikes!
Again, our channels have been dumb struck. They specialise in calling the likes of Arun Jaitley, R. P. Rudy, R. S. Prasad, Jairam Ramesh and Pravin Togadia to their studios and talk of their pet subjects but anything more than that is now obviously beyond them! No channel showed any interest in finding out the possible reasons for this heightened American interest in the Gulf region.
What our electronic media has given us is their version of hand-out journalism. What they have fought shy from is honest reporting. Ask no uncomfortable questions, seek no hidden skeletons, war, not peace makes news. That has been their mantra. If Bush, CNN and the American media are keeping their citizens ignorant and feeding on their misplaced fear, the Indian media is not doing much better. But at what cost?
Ditto for BBC that set aside a profile series in which Condoleeza Rice gets an opportunity to say that her parents had convinced her that she may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth's but had it in her to become the American President! Obviously, the yardstick, the focus is different when it comes to Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was put under the microscope by John Simpson, following his "bloody trail from London to the Middle-East to America". His intelligence chief was also quoted for the obvious effect: "No one would dare raise his voice in the presence of Saddam Hussein. And if one banged their fist on the table, they would certainly be executed."
Interestingly, no attempt was made when they talked of Bush and how the American President had deftly turned the campaign against Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden to one against the Iraqi President. Only Blair was allowed to have his say.
Again, the demonstrators for peace were sidelined. All until Tim Sebastian got across to Ken Nichol O'Keefe, volunteer, Human Shield, who pledged to put his life in danger to secure peace for Iraq. In `Hard Talk', Sebastian wore his preferences on his sleeve. Expressing apprehension that all anti-American protests in Iraq might be "Government-sponsored", he obviously had a different yardstick for those swearing by war in the U.S. or Britain. He was `hard' on the volunteer who was not allowed to `talk'. About the only time the guest had his say, he managed to reveal his mind, forthright and right. "We value white life, it is sick, it is hypocritical... US Government is a murderer." That is as clear a voice that emanated from an Indian screen on the US-Iraq issue over the past fortnight or so. That it needed an American involved in the Gulf War a decade ago to tell us what needs to be told, shows where the priorities of our media lie.
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