Debate | Should Media Question the Govt in Times of Conflict?

Is protecting national interest more important that asking facts? Listen to what senior journalists have to say.

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Amidst escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, should the media question the government on “facts”, at the risk of being termed an “anti-national”? Speaking to BloombergQuint, senior journalists weighed in on the role of Indian media during times of conflict.

Tensions escalated between India and Pakistan after the 14 February terror attack in Pulwama that killed over 40 CRPF jawans following which India carried out an air strike targeting the training camps of Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed responsibility for the terror attack in Pulwama. Both the countries engaged in a dog fight on 27 February which resulted in Pakistan capturing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a hostage for almost three days before returning him to India.

Now, many have questioned the casualty figures of the air strike and have asked the government for factual reports of the attack and the tensions that ensued. But is the media in its right to do so?

Speaking to BloombergQuint, Ajay Shukla, journalist and retired Colonel of the Indian Army, said, “The first challenge is to get access to good, stable, authoritative information and that can only come in a situation like this from the government. It is up to the government to control information flows and make sure journalists are getting good, factual, accurate and complete information. This is a major step to prevent people from relying on hearsay.”

“The journalists cannot and should not assume that everything that is being said by the government is correct. And the challenge lies in verifying that information. It may not always be easy but the effort to verify must continue.”
Ajay Shukla

Senior journalist Arati Jerath added, “This is not a war situation, so censorship rules do not apply here. Secondly the problem has been exacerbated by the fact that there has been very little information that has come from the government.”

“So we have relied on “sourced” information and those amount to planted information. These have often been very contradictory, with different media houses reporting different things. Since the source is mostly not defined, we don’t know if it is a source from the defence or the government, we don’t know where this information is coming from.”
Arati Jerath

“Secondly, motormouth ministers have been banding figures and facts around – for example, the defence minister said 300 people were killed, and the president of the ruling party said 250 people were killed and then defence minister said it was an estimate.” Jerath added.

Since the Pulwama attack, many sensitive, important and complex issues have come up. The entire country was seized by the news and wanted to know what was happening. I think it is a failure of the Indian government to not create a credible flow of information for journalists so that they can report. And that is what has led to the questioning, and sense of confusion now.”
Arati Jerath
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