Responsible reporting in J&K

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The news that three men belonging to Rajouri who were killed during an encounter in Shopian on July 18 last year weren’t involved in any terrorist related activities is true. However, the claim made by a section of media that an army Captain had killed these three civilians in order to claim a cash reward of Rs 20 lakh is not only completely false but also mischievous and patently made with a malafide intention. False, because the fact is that there’s no system of cash awards for arresting or killing terrorists within the army is well known to all, and mischievous because this false information has been circulated with the sole objective of maligning the army.
However, all those who carried the false ‘killing for cash’ narrative may not have done so with an insidious intent. Au contraire, since perpetuators of this falsehood cited the police charge-sheet as the source of this input, it could have added an element of ‘authenticity’ to this news and thereby fooled some media houses into believing that what otherwise an outrightly absurd assertion, to be true. Publishing such a factually incorrect piece of news highlights critical importance of not falling into the ‘breaking news’ trap and ending-up carrying news, without first confirming its authenticity. This is because fake news not only misleads people and does great public disservice, but it also adversely impacts the credibility of the media houses and newspapers that publish such inaccurate news.
The news report on this issue claimed that the police charge-sheet noted, “By staging the encounter and destroying evidence of the real crime, the erring officials have committed and also have been purposefully projecting false information as part of a criminal conspiracy hatched between them with motive to grab prize money of Rs 20 lakh.” So, what merits attention here is that if this is indeed an extract of the police charge-sheet as is being claimed, then it doesn’t make any sense because what was reported immediately after these killings took place doesn’t give any indication of reward money being the reason behind these unfortunate deaths.
The official statement of the police concerning this encounter stated, “During [the] encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists is being ascertained.” Now if claiming reward money was indeed the motivation for these killings, then how come the officer who was involved didn’t even try and pass-off deceased as ‘wanted’ terrorists, whose names figured in the official rewards list. Therefore, will any source that carried the reward money story care to educated us as to since when have the authorities started paying a whopping amount of Rs 20 lakh for killing of ‘unidentified terrorists’?
Another related issue that media in Kashmir Valley needs to seriously ponder upon concerns objectivity in reporting.
A section of the media has tried to suggest that these killings are the result of impunity that security forces acquire by ‘protection’ provided to them by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act [AFSPA], which by any reason is completely erroneous and misleading observation. Read the AFSPA and you’ll realise that the opinion of a section of the intelligentsia and some rights activists of it being a ‘license to kill’ is completely misplaced and in many cases even motivated. The very fact that the army has taken due cognisance of this incident and is conducting legal proceedings against accused completely negates the view that AFSPA protects wrong doers.
Lastly and most importantly, there is a need for the media to differentiate between individual and institutionalised violation of human rights. What we have in Shopian case is clearly an individual act, which is in violation of the laid-down orders and instructions, and as such is rightly being dealt with as per provisions of law. Institutionalised violation of human rights is when the organisation either looks the other way when its members indulge in human rights excesses, or justifies the same. Skeptics may contend that since organisations never openly declare their support for human rights abuses, any talk about institutionalised human rights violations is merely an attempt to obfuscate the issue.
A classic example of institutionalised human rights violation was ‘Operation Searchlight’ undertaken by Pakistan army in 1971 that saw an unprecedented and systematic killing of civilians in erstwhile East Pakistan. Another more recent example of institutionalising human rights violations is of 2019, when Director General of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] publicly endorsedenforced disappearances of civilians by saying, “We don’t want any person to go missing but where there is a war, you have to do a number of [undesirable] things. It’s said that everything is fair in love and war. War occurs to be ruthless.”
So, while the media should certainly not shy away from highlighting instances of human right violations by members of security forces, but professional integrity and ethics of journalism demands that while reporting such incidents, objectivity is never, ever, compromised.
It’s truth that should prevail!
Nilesh Kunwar

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