The Effect of Media Bias on Politically Charged Issues
There are some conflicts in the world that have lasted for decades and it often seems like there is no end to them. Some of these long-lasting major conflicts, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Afghanistan crisis, and the Iraq conflict have gained massive international media coverage due to their extreme, horrific number of casualties and failure to recognize several international treaties. However, there is a major conflict between two nuclear powers over a territory that has lasted for more than seventy years now which has not received the attention of the international media as much as some of its counterparts: the conflict between India and Pakistan over the troubled region of Kashmir.
The Indian-administered part of Kashmir, i.e. the Indian province of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), was provided a special status after the independence of the Indian sub-continent from the British Crown. The details of this special status were described in Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and they were as follows:
· Article 370: “(Indian) Parliament needs the Jammu & Kashmir government’s approval for applying laws in the state — except in cases of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications. The law of citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights of the residents of Jammu & Kashmir is different from the residents living in rest of India. Under Article 370, citizens from other states cannot buy property in Jammu & Kashmir. Under Article 370, the Centre has no power to declare a financial emergency in the state.” (“What Is Article 370”)
· Article 35A: “Article 35A allows the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define permanent residents of the state.” (“What is Article 35A”)
These articles which provided J&K with a great level of sovereignty and allowed them to maintain their own legislations, were abolished by the Indian government on August 5th, 2019, leading to massive protests in Kashmir and several other parts of the country. This move by the government triggered major media houses to report the issue and it was inevitable that many of them would have their opinions on the matter incorporated in their reports; some did this blatantly, while others did so in a more subtle manner.
Noam Chomsky was interviewed by Michal Shank in 2007 about the relations between India and Pakistan, wherein he mentions that their conflict over Kashmir could lead to another war between the two nations. The abolishment of this special status of Indian-administered Kashmir could lead to the doomsday-setting that Chomsky refers to in this interview, because Pakistan has openly refuted and criticized this action by the Indian government, and the diplomatic relations between the two countries have deteriorated to their worst form after this incident. When interviewed again in January 2020 by Karthik Ramanathan regarding his opinion on the abolishment of J&K’s special status, Chomsky states that this move by the government was widely celebrated amongst the Hindu population of the country. BJP, the ruling party in India, is the political arm of the Hindu nationalist group RSS and Chomsky’s reference to the acceptance of the abolishment of Kashmir’s special status by the Hindu population could be one of the agendas of this action by the Indian government. Chomsky also mentions that “… the press has been pretty much muzzled (about this issue). They are very uncritical.” (Ramanathan)
Three articles reporting this issue from varied sources will be the subject of this investigation. The first article is by Firstpost, the online news wing of the Indian media conglomerate Network 18. This article titled “Abolishing Article 370: MHA outlines rationale for ending Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in booklet” discusses the outlines of the removal of this special status, the reasons presented for the same by the government and the benefits that will be achieved by doing so. The second article is by The Print, an Indian digital news distributor and online newspaper, and is titled “How erasing Article 370 became an article of faith for RSS and BJP”. The article mentions the flaws of revoking the special status of J&K and how it has been used by the ruling party to fulfil the radical ideologies of its parent organization. The final article is by the massive British public service broadcaster, BBC, and is titled “Article 370: What happened with Kashmir and why it matters”. It is an international take on this issue which delivers a brief history of the troubled region of Kashmir, the reasons provided by the government for this action and discussion on the ground-realities and legality of the removal of this special status.
The parent organization of Firstpost, Network 18, is owned by one of the most profitable Indian multinational conglomerates, Reliance Industries. Mukesh Ambani, the owner of Reliance Industries, has supported a candidate from the opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), in the Indian parliamentary elections of 2019. However, this is an anomaly in their usual political support as he has regularly supported and commended the political measures taken by the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his party BJP. The influence of this public support can be clearly seen in Firstpost’s article on the removal of the special status of J&K. This article was published on August 5th, 2019 and although the article adopts a neutral tone while reporting this issue, there is no mention of how this move by the government has been perceived by Kashmiri natives and domiciles. It describes the outlines of the leaflet provided by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs regarding this issue, explaining how the blame for not abolishing this special provision sooner lies with the Congress party. However, it fails to report the statements from INC regarding these accusations and this clearly displays a political bias.
The article by The Print, published on their website on August 5th, 2019, uses strong language and derogatory terms to emphasise the negative implications of the removal of J&K’s special status. Starting with the title of the article itself, the author uses emotionally compelling terms such as “an article of faith” (Shukla) to attract readers who oppose the policies taken by the ruling party BJP. The only image included in the article is of a group of Indian Army soldiers stationed in Kashmir which subtly delivers the idea of insurgency in the state and the atrocities faced by the civilians due to the constant military actions in the region. The Print has been known to openly oppose BJP and this political bias against that party, no matter how rational, is clearly evident in the article. By passionately calling the removal of this special provision “a pet cause of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the BJP” (Shukla), the author demonstrates a prejudiced representation of this issue. The article does not mention any of the reasons provided by the government for this decision and generalizes how this decision was the direct implementation of its parent organization’s dream of a Hindu nationalistic state. By using selective evidence such as the description of actions taken by RSS during the incorporation of Kashmir in India, and not mentioning the steps taken by INC during the same time, the article mentions the demerits of one side of the political spectrum, but not the other, and raises doubts on the article’s credibility.
The BBC presents an outsider’s take on this issue and delivers an article that is primarily focused on the predicament in Kashmir caused by this decision taken by the Indian government. The brief history provided in the article clearly outlines the constant insurgency in Kashmir and how it has resulted in a three-decade long conflict in the region. By adapting a neutral tone and avoiding the usage of emotional terms, the author appeals to a larger faction of the society and not just the opposers of the ruling party and their ideologies. This, however, does not imply that the article has been written objectively and instances of bias can be noticed in the subtleties of the article. Although BJP promotes itself as a secular and socialist political party and does not openly abide by its parent organization’s radical ideologies, the article describes BJP as a Hindu nationalistic party. The article presents selective evidence by mentioning the reception of this decision by both Kashmiri natives and Hindu right-wing groups but fails to report the comments made by the general public of mainland India. Along with the removal of the special status of J&K, the government has also decided to divide the state into three separate provinces without any religious reasons. However, the article reports that the regions have been divided on a religious basis and this is clearly an opiniated statement, not reflecting the actual motivations behind this division. The article also takes an unconventional take on the issue by discussing the legality of this decision by the Indian government and presents differing opinions on the same, leaving the readers to contemplate its legality.
The articles by Firstpost and BBC, although displaying different takes on this issue, present their objectives in the same manner and display their biases discreetly. Moreover, even though the articles by BBC and The Print both attempt to display the atrocities faced by Kashmiri civilians, The Print uses strong, emotive language to describe this while the article from BBC incorporates images of unrest in Kashmir to display the same. BBC is a public news broadcaster in the UK; however, it has been noted by many experts that they politically lean towards the conservative spectrum. This is not reflected in their report of Kashmir’s issue as they neither support the government’s decision, nor do they oppose it openly. The same cannot be said about the other two articles as they both reflect the ideas of their publishing authorities and promote the overall political leaning of their media houses. Another aspect where the BBC article shines over the other two is the discussion on the legality of this decision made by the government, which both of the other articles fail to do. This limits their objectivity and raises concerns over the overall intention of these articles.
Marshall McLuhan constantly stated that with the rise in technology, re-tribalization will occur which means that people would form ‘tribes’ with like-minded individuals and that this can limit their understanding about a certain issue. It is very important to hear the arguments from all sides regarding a topic before presenting a news report about the said topic. The Print and Firstpost disregard this notion and appeal to certain ‘tribes’ that share the same ideologies as them, using the power of internet to reach their target audience and fulfil their intended purpose. The BBC, on the other hand, carefully and objectively attempts to report this issue while simultaneously describing the shortcomings of this decision to revoke the special status of J&K in a cautious manner.
Noam Chomsky states in his interview with Karthik Ramanathan that the diasporas of troubled communities tend to react more actively than the members of those communities actually living in the troubled region. This is a direct correlation of McLuhan’s idea of globalization which allows those diasporas to connect more easily with their communities back home. Kashmiri individuals all around the world have criticized the government’s abolishment of Kashmir’s special status, the detainment of local leaders and politicians, and the ban on internet and telecommunication enforced by the Indian government. Since the world has indeed become a ‘Global Village’, as described by McLuhan, due to the exponential rise in the field of electronic communication, it is almost inevitable for governments to put restrictions on their citizens’ basic rights and needs. Sooner or later, news about such injustice is brought out into the spotlight.
Globalisation has motivated individuals from foreign media houses, such as the BBC in this case, to report a more detailed and balanced narrative of the situation while concurrently presenting their take on it. However, even in the case of the BBC article, bias can be noticed, and it is imperative to notice such features in a piece of information to have a more concrete understanding of the matter at hand. Seldom do we see an article that is completely unaffected by religious, political, or organizational pressures. Hence, it is our duty as responsible global citizens to be more thorough while deriving information from an article or a news story. A great technique for this would be to make the article pass through the ‘Propaganda Model’ suggested by Noam Chomsky and commending the journalists whose articles successfully pass this objectivity test. These actions by journalists should be supported by their organizations too in order to fulfill their fundamental duty of being the fourth pillar of a democracy.
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