An event of profound significance happened in Galwan valley of Ladakh on. June 15, 2020 night and galvanized the nation instantly as the news broke out the next morning. The mainstream media no doubt carried the news to every nook and corner contributing to the cause of national consolidation. However, a majority of them were also seen going for an overdrive to the extent of creating a kind of hysteria over the issue and thus posing a threat to rational decision making by authorities concerned. In this process they extensively leveraged irresponsible and abusive statements by several opposition leaders who had jumped into the fray as soon as the news of Indian casualties broke out. Whether or not such style of handling issues of such enormous importance as ‘war’ or ‘war like situation’ is in national interest warrants national introspection. Little elaboration.
How opposition behaved?
The reactions of the opposition camp were three types: (a) accusing the government for lack of transparency on what was happening at LAC, and demanding regular sharing of information with them; (b) demanding immediate retaliation against the Chinese; (c) abusing the prime minister in various styles one stooping down to raise question about the breadth of his chest.
Handling by mainstream media
The mainstream media seemingly bothered only about TRP acted more subtly. Conscious that creating frenzy is bound to hamper the process of making rational decisions, many TV channels took the apparently nationalist line ‘while the whole nation stands united, opposition is asking many (undesirable) questions’. In further pursuance to that line, they kept collecting every bit of abusive sound byte from every possible social media or press statements of known or even non-descript leaders and gave them extensive publicity round the clock. Even the experts invited to speak were tacitly egged on to take extreme position, as if the best strategy of the armed forces can come out instantly through discussions in TV studios!
War journalism is not cricket commentary
When would the mainstream media of the country realize that dealing with ‘war’ or a ‘potentially war like situation’ is not playing a ‘day and night cricket match’? A war is a serious thing and it may span over weeks, months or years. To win a war it calls for great determination, cool courage, self-restraint, intelligent decision making, active contributions – physical, monetary & others from every section of the society. J&K and Ladakh in particular, has been one of the most complex legacy problems handed over to the present government.
Galwan valley is a legacy issue- far complex than meets the eyes
The challenge is far wider considering that at long last Modi govt has set recovery of the whole Aksai Chin as its goal. The action in a particular front, whether at Galwan valley or elsewhere, must fit into the overall military strategy. It should be extensively thought out, well calibrated to comply with both strategic and tactical norms, and part of an integrated whole. No action can be taken in impulse. Patience, intelligence and courage are all needed in equal measures. Viewed in the overall context, creating a nationwide frenzy calling for retaliation and baying for enemy blood here and now can create undue pressure on the armed forces and force them to make suboptimal decisions.
What India witnessed on Tuesday is a deja vu of how mainstream media, especially the TV channels had conducted themselves during Pulwama episode, and more particularly on the issue of return of wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pak captivity on March 1, 2019. The manner in which these media created a frenzy on the day of his return remains etched on to public memory till date. While the trenchant Pakistani culture of dealing with POWs kept creating doubt about his release till late afternoon, a few of them stooped down to the level of subtly creating a regional angle to an entirely national issue by highlighting his nativity in southern India. Thankfully, the media did not go down further on the issues of caste or religion. But nothing seemed impossible for a TRP hungry media!
How the crisis waned despite the frenzy?
It is hard even to imagine what would have happened had Abhinandan not returned that night! His return had set at rest all the hype. In the case of the Galwan issue as well things have begun to cool after the Indian military and MEA issued statements. From them as well as other sources such as ANI we know that while 20 brave Indian soldiers with a commanding officer were martyred, the casualty in the Chinese side were far heavier to the extent of 43 lives. On Wednesday a US estimate confirmed heavy casualty on Chinese side besides the death of the Chinese commanding officer.
Lessons for the mainstream media
What lessons do these two incidents convey to the mainstream media? Who knows it better than them that most opposition leaders in India are so obsessed with political interest that they cannot cooperate with the ruling party even while dealing with enemies of India? Therefore, to deal with war or war like situation, they need to be more mature. Media is called as the fourth pillar of democracy. When India has an elected government that has massive mandate, the people have trust in it and they should allow to retain it.
Similarly, the Indian armed forces are one of the finest in the world and there is every reason to have confidence it its capacity, prudence, patriotism and strength. By creating a frenzy, the media will help dislocating the public confidence in both political and military leadership. Will that not be akin to acting like the infamous ‘fifth columnists’ of the enemy within India? The ‘Galwan’ issue should make a major portion of mainstream media to introspect in these lines.
For the time being two sides have disengaged from the scene of confrontation. However, there is no guarantee that Chinese side will not make new misadventure in any other sector around the LAC in J&K or elsewhere along kms of Indo-China border. In such an eventuality the mainstream media will have an important role. It will do a service to the nation if it considers a paradigm shift in the style of dealing with such situations and apply it generally to war and warlike situation.