Kashmir floods and the news media

Maleeha Mukhtar

Does the media have any responsibility towards the people it reports about and the lives of many that it affects in this process? And with the advent of the new social media and the battle to have the maximum viewership and TRP’s has the fourth estate lost its credibility today?

The world in the recent decade or so has witnessed a revolution in terms of the flow of information and a major contribution to this has been made by the social media channels. Social media has become a mouth-piece for the both the young and the old to voice their opinions. What I believe as would most is that the world requires less of ‘objectivity’ and more ‘transparency’.

But in the race to gain the maximum ‘Followers’ and ‘Likes’ have the very ideals of fair-mindedness that the media has been attaching so much value to, come to be co-opted by the ideas of consumerism and jingoism. I had the first hand experience of the same when Kashmir faced the worst tragedy in six decades.

Sitting here in country’s capital I hardly knew the gravity of the situation in Kashmir, my home. The   last time I had spoken to my parents was the evening of 5 September when my mother sounded a bit alarmed and I could sense the concern in her voice. ‘Dear I think this is turning into something serious, we are praying for everything to be fine, you take care’.

That was the only conversation we had in four days and during this time the only news that I heard from Kashmir was from facebook, twitter and the newspapers in Delhi. I have to admit those were the four hardest days of my life. With no information coming out of the valley, the Kashmiris all around the world and in different parts of India were hooked on to social media and television for any piece of information that came out of the valley. My friends and family, who were outside, were in constant touch, extending their best wishes and support to me and each other, though all of us continued to remain anxious about the situation back home.

Then on the morning of 7 September the news of the flood waters engulfing the historic city of Srinagar and the surrounding areas started coming in. ‘River Jhelum has breached its barriers in the city, the flood water has covered most of the areas of Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar and Lal Chowk and is now moving towards other parts’, was a tweet that had come in last from a person in Srinagar updating his twitter feed. By this time we all realised that the situation had got out of hand.

Rescue operations had begun by 8 September with the local volunteers and Army helping out with the efforts. That was what we had heard from the newspapers. Though the Army’s role is commendable but we should never forget the hundreds of brave young volunteers who risked their lives to protect people stuck inside their homes.

Given the magnitude of destruction witnessed by the valley I hoped that media would play its role of a responsible source of news especially in the capital of the country. Within days of the flood calamity the media started showcasing its bias, commending the role of the armed forces in ‘helping and protecting the traitors who support cross border terrorism and preach hatred against India’. One news report in a leading newspaper going to the extent of suggesting that the Kashmiris must forget the 60,000 or so lives that were lost at the hands of the security personnel because they saved more than that number of people during the floods.

My twitter and facebook feeds were filled with comments of hatred and resentment that people all over the country felt towards those who were at that time scurrying around their flooded homes to save whatever they could.

Sitting in my room reading these stories made me feel miserable. But the next morning something unexpected happened, not everyone was apathetic to the situation in Kashmir, the students in my college and others in different colleges started a donation drive to help people in Kashmir. My own friends from Kashmir and many others in college donated generously for the same and they were concerned given the scale of destruction that had taken place. This was the other side of India which showed sympathy towards the cause of the people struck by a natural disaster. I wish those sitting in the ivory towers would realize that when a calamity strikes instead of gaining petty points we should stand as one to provide any support, be it in any form, even reporting what needs to be reported.

It needs to be asked today if the media which swears by its unprejudiced and neutral stand on issues, has lost the very basis of its existence, of keeping people informed and reporting the situation impartially as it unfolds.

(Maleeha Mukhtar is a third year Political Science (Honors) student at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. She can be reached at maleehash7@gmail.com)