The journalistic fraternity from South Asian nations feels that the time has come for the media to make a shift from the conflict reporting of the 20th century to constructive communication that reduces conflict in the region and promotes peace in the 21st century.
Setting the ball rolling by calling for scaling down cross-border restrictions on the media during a panel discussion on "The media's role in peace and cooperation" at the 8th South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) conference here on Sunday, freelance journalist Jyoti Malhotra, the moderator, observed that the citizens of all South Asian nations must know what is happening in each other's country. There are so many stories that don't just have readers in India but also in Pakistan and other neighbouring nations, she said.
Prof Mohammad Waseem from the Lahore University of Management Sciences said that this is the time for the media of both India and Pakistan to move away from "war journalism" to "peace journalism". The media in Pakistan needs to commit to news coverage that is framed in a context of engagement, not disengagement with society across the border in educational, cultural, commercial, diplomatic, scientific and artistic pursuits, he said.
"All this needs journalists on both sides to adopt a strategy that moves from arming themselves by the conflict discourse to disarming others across the fence through constructive communication. This requires a decisive shift from the gladiator syndrome of the projection of power in the conflict to a quest for the common ground. The coverage of conflict must not become an abetment of conflict," Waseem said while taking part in the discussion.
Vinod Kumar Sharma, president of the Indian chapter of SAFMA and political editor of Hindustan Times, said that at a time when there is a media boom all around, the media should exercise its freedom with more responsibility and honesty. Imagine the mistrust and scary scenario a wrong news will create in the minds of the upcoming generations, who have everything available at the click of a mouse in their homes and do not have to wait for days for a newspaper to arrive from across the border, he said.
He regretted that a single person who often talks about peace between India and Pakistan is not taken seriously by the media and is often dismissed as an "agent". He called upon the media to desist from disseminating news that creates fear and distrust. He also called for increasing trade and business between India and Pakistan as this would also "bring the media of the two nations closer".
Kumar Ketkar, regional president, South Asia Media Commission, favoured free flow of information across borders but felt that while doing so the media should keep certain ethical norms in mind. Yuvraj, a senior journalist from Nepal, also spoke on the issue.
The last session of the day was devoted to a discussion on "Terrorism, extremism and inter/intra-state conflict". The moderator of the session was Suhasini Haider, senior editor CNN-IBN, and the prominent speaker in this session was Sanjoy Hazarika, director, Centre of North East Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.
SAFMA members criticise Wagah retreat ceremony
The hostile gesture by the jawans of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers during the daily retreat ceremony at the Wagah joint check post came in for a lot of criticism at the SAFMA conference.
Kamran Shafi, a senior journalist from Lahore, called the hostile gestures and the stomping of feet by the border guards of the two nations as "uncivilised". The hostile drill that they follow and the levels to which they raise their feet should be done away with and a more civilised approach should be adopted, he said.
Shafi said the border guards on both sides at Wagah do not even acknowledge a visitor's greetings.
Agreeing with his Pakistani colleague, Vinod Sharma, political editor, Hindustan Times, said that such a drill would send a wrong message to the coming generations on both sides of the border. "The Wagah post has come to be associated with peace. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee undertook his peace yatra to Pakistan from here in 1998. This place has also witnessed numerous candlelight vigils for peace," he said.