On Tuesday, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out air strikes in Balakot, Pakistan, as a retaliation to the Pulwama attack.
Early morning, between 3:30 am and 4 am, around a dozen Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to enter Balakot where the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) houses terrorist camps.
JeM is a Pakistan-based terrorist group that took responsibility for the attack in Pulwama earlier this month. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who ambushed a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans and killed 40 of them.
How the media covered the Pulwama attack
The Indian media is known from its theatrical coverage of politics that has often lead to real-world consequences like riots and cyber bullying.
Initially, when news of the attack became public, media outlets mostly reported the facts included statements by government officials, who naturally condemned the attack. Some even called for retaliation.
However, with time, outlets began focusing more on responses by politicians either praising or critiquing Prime Minister Modi and less on the hard facts of the case.
For example, a few days ago, many news agencies covered the back and forth between Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu and BJP President Amit Shah.
Naidu told Modi to take “moral responsibility” for the killing of CRPF jawans and suggested that he resign, especially after Modi had asked former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to do the same during his term.
The politicisation of the Pulwama attack is not a unique feature of Indian society.
Qrius previously reported that even western media houses like BBC and the New York Times (NYT) have politicised their coverage on acts of terrorism on their home country’s soil.
Covering the 9/11 hijacking, the NYT wrote that “smoke and fires poured out of the towers”, a graphic image likely to stir up sentiment among American readers.
Similarly, BBC published a video of subway wreckage after the 7/7 bombing and questioned whether MI6 could have prevented the attack- pieces that were emotional for British citizens and explored the roots of their anger and shock.
How is the media covering the strike now?
In 2016, militants killed 17 soldiers in an attack on an Indian army-base, Uri, in Kashmir. This base was close to the LoC. When the Indian army uncovered the terrorists’ plans, they saw that the maps were drawn in Pashtun, a language spoken in Pakistan.
This incident riled up Indians all over the country. Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh called Pakistan a “terrorist state”.
The death toll was not only one of the highest in two decades preceding the attack, but also perpetrated by Pakistan-based militants, a country with which India has a highly precarious relationship.
In retaliation, Indian forces struck back via surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and inflicted heavy damage.
A tweet comparing Indian and Pakistani news coverage on the surgical strikes made its rounds on social media. Indian media outlets and newspapers glorified this military action.
The Economic Times ran a piece explaining the strikes with the headline, “4 hours, choppers and 38 kills: How Indian avenged the Uri attack”.
The Indian Express wrote, “INDIA STRIKES” in large, bold print.
Other sources like the Times of India published this headline on the front page: “Pak Crossed The Line, Indian Crosses LoC”.
Contrastingly, Pakistani news coverage on the same was much milder and less celebratory.
For example, Tribune ran a front-page article headlined, “‘Surgical’ farce blows up in India’s face’”.
Dawn took a more neutral approach and wrote, “Escalation or brinkmanship at LoC?” followed by an article on the lower fold titled, “Was it really a surgical strike?”
Nonetheless, this kind of reporting has two major reasons: the media reflects what leaders say and politicians are often aggressive about national security issues and news outlets can be partisan in their coverage.
Although the coverage on the Balakot strike is still in its early stages, we can safely assume that the Indian media will follow a pattern similar to the Pulwama attack and Uri strikes- first only the facts, then highlighting politicians opinions and disagreements, and finally, glorifying the military retaliation.
In fact, Indian news sources have already begun doing so. Some are likening the Balakot strike to Uri, others are choosing to boldly outline the conflict between Indian and Pakistani armed forces.
The Pakistani media is currently covering India’s LoC violation.
For example, Dawn has published the following headline: “Indian aircraft violate LoC, scramble back after PAF’s timely response: ISPR”.
Tribune posted an article listing reactions from Pakistani officials to the strike and including aggressive tweets promising action against India.
Business Standard’s headline today reads, “Surgical Strike 2.0 Live: ‘It’s your turn to get ready for our surprise,’ says Pakistan Army to India after IAF destroys Jaish terror camps in Balakot”
Another significant development is that many news outlets have reported what celebrities have said about the attack.
India Today has published multiple pieces quoting Rajnikanth, Ajay Devgn, Mallika Sherawat, and Kailash Kher.Times Now also ran an article discussing how celebrities in South India have “praised” the strike.
After a Cobrapost sting revealed that Indian celebrities are willing to accept black money to push partisan content online, Qrius questioned if non-political public figures are obligated to engage in political discourse in a responsible and well-thought out manner.
Although there is no definitive answer to that question, one can wonder how valuable a public figure’s political opinion is if they are not qualified to discuss politics.
This matters because the news has a responsibility to educate their readers. Covering extremely similar and one-sided responses from Bollywood might not necessarily help in that regard.
But, any sort of military action always has an emotional fallout- one that the media must provide nuance and context to.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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