May 2, 2010

The way ahead

Peace initiatives will raise the urge for peace and the need for the allocation of more resources to the cause

By Shabbir Hussain

While relations between India and Pakistan face their share of ups and downs, the Aman ki Asha initiative by leading media industries of both the countries is a laudable step. The intended spirit of the initiative is to forge peace in the region by highlighting commonalities between the two peoples and provide a platform where the conflicting issues can be discussed and resolved peacefully. This campaign essentially comes under the purview of media, a widely taught and practised academic discipline that is yet to make its mark in South Asia.

Unfortunately, peace postures are ridiculed and are tinged with conspiracies. The antagonistic media campaign launched by the competitors of both Jang group and Times of India is a case in point. Elsewhere in the world also, media have got this penchant for reporting on conflicts to gain viewership and outdo their competitors.

In some cases, the statements by politicians and analysis by experts frighten readers and viewers by painting an extremely bleak future. The enemy image of one state is reinforced by reporting sensationally and without giving space to alternative viewpoints. Surely, the people of both countries are not as jingoistic as they are shown at times.

The Aman ki Asha spirit will encourage media persons to discuss bilateral conflicts as a problem, involve other groups, and focus on the sufferings of common people. The universally accepted values of objectivity and balance also demand to check the war-mongering and inflammatory rhetoric in media and adopt healthier techniques of disseminating information. If media persons have to play an ethical responsibility, it is mandatory for them to understand the conflicts contextually and report the underlying causes of conflicts.

Media practitioners need to realise that journalistic objectivity does not mean simply factual reporting but also taking responsibility for what is being reported. A cursory look at any of the country’s media discourse will reveal much pain is taken to report on the ‘evil intentions’ of the adversary and very little is done to reveal the whole truth by contextualising the issue.

Editors need to give a broader perspective of the conflict; show greater benefits peace will accrue and avoid making half-baked stories. Maligning one country by the other’s media will not serve the purpose as it will discourage policy makers to initiate peace talks. Instead, media must spearhead the agenda for peace for the respective countries to start normalising their ties.

Unfortunately, media in both countries is being used by war-mongers and self-styled experts to propagate their venomous viewpoints. All our contending issues relate to the 1947 separation of both states and, hence, must be discussed in this perspective. Relying on symptoms of conflicts will further exacerbate issues in a region that is thickly populated and where youth happen to occupy a major portion of more than one billion people.

While the road ahead is full of irritants, one must say kudos to the exponents of Aman ki Asha and encourage them to continue this noble cause. The next step by the two organisations in this direction must be training of at least two media persons in peace media studies and allotment of permanent space for Aman ki Asha columns

Such endeavours will raise the urge for peace and need for the allocation of more resources to the cause. It is essential to inform the mainstream media about the efficacy of such campaigns and prepare them for taking more initiatives in this regard. The early we realise it, the better it is.

The writer is an Islamabad-based media researcher, Assistant Professor at the Riphah Institute of Media Studies

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