SRINAGAR: Sometimes, in fact more oft than not, the media with the increasing reach of television news channels can play havoc. And this becomes particularly worrisome when it affects border states, and that too states as sensitive as Jammu and Kashmir.

The media was directly responsible for creating a chasm between New Delhi and Srinagar, by playing on perceptions and stereotypes through ill informed and irregular reporting. Every single person in flood devastated Srinagar---from the government to the ‘mainstream’ political parties to the people---confirmed that the media misreported the facts, and by pitting the Army against the people created anger and resentment where none needed to exist.

The story pieced together by The Citizen on the basis of accounts from responsible persons in Jammu and Kashmir goes something like this: The floods as reported earlier caught the people unawares. And while the Army was scrambling its boats and rescue teams to cope with the massive disaster local youth also plunged into the waters with their makeshift boats to bring out their relatives, friends and neighbours from the submerged houses. The rescue operations thus gained some momentum despite the ferocity of the waters, and the visible shortage of boats and rescue equipment. The state government, of course, had disappeared from view with its officials coping with their own submerged houses and problems.

In the midst of this arrived the star journalists from Delhi. And as a senior Congress leader said, “while the reporters of the said television channels were lodged at a small hotel in the city, the editors were taken to special lodgings by the military and flown over the city in choppers from where they recorded and televised the army’s rescue operations.” And in the coverage made it clear, over and over again, that the entire rescue was being managed by the Army, even asking how Kashmiri’s felt to be rescued by an “occupation” Army. This was literally blasted over prime television channels even though there was a second reality which the journalists either did not see from their secluded lodgings, or did not care to see.

The second reality, as reported in The Citizen, comprised the youth of the Valley and their absolutely heroic rescue work. These people did what they had to do to survive and as a senior PDP leader said, “they did it without camera’s, without publicity, without anything except sheer courage.” But this story of the citizens efforts was not recorded, or even acknowledged.

The result was anger, that manifested itself in just two stone pelting incidents. One was out of justifiable anger in an area where the youth had carried out most of the rescue work; and the second was because the wind from the helicopter was stirring the waters to a point where the safety of the boat below was jeopardised. The anger was not with the Army but with the media that had glorified one side of the story and blacked out the other completely.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, like all others in Kashmir, said that they appreciated the work of the Army and it was completely wrong to say otherwise. But like all others he added, “but we must acknowledge what the Kashmiri youth did, they were tremendous.” In short the Army took the credit for doing its job, the youth got no credit despite what they did at tremendous risk to their lives. But as the young people part of various rescue efforts told this reporter, “we did not want the publicity but why was this media only acting as if the Army did it all. They did what they could, and we did a lot too.”

This media coverage has created tremendous animosity where otherwise the Army would have got full kudos from the local people. It is true that it followed a protocol of rescuing people in the following order: VIPs, its own personnel who were stranded in the submerged cantonment, tourists and then the locals who were appreciative, but furious with the media for “playing politics while we were drowning.” In South Kashmir the locals were full of praise for the Army for instance where the rescue was not hampered by protocol or distorted by visiting media teams.

The myths being created even now by sections of the media and their invited experts about the Kashmiri’s spreading propaganda against the Army are completely wrong. Even the Jamaat e Islami chief told a visiting delegation that the Army had done commendable work, but so had the local youth whose heroic rescue operations if ever recorded will fill a volume. There is no significant political, mainstream or separatist, propaganda against the Army with the locals insisting that their young peoples contribution be recognised and not blacked out as it has been. This insistence is becoming more vehement as is a strange sense of isolation here.

(Tomorrow: Politics)