Tuesday, May 10, 2011

India- Pakistan: Indian media in Islamabad

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Interested Indian observers should thank Sen.Rehman Malik, a fellow cop like me, who is Pakistan's Interior Minister, for facilitating the visit to Islamabad at this sensitive time in the history of Pakistan of two prominent and widely-respected journalists of the Indian electronic media---Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Suhasini Haider of CNN-IBN--- for reporting on the delicate situation there by asking the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to issue them visas.

2. It has been reported that on the receipt of a Tweet from Barkha regarding the issue of a visa, he intervened immediately to ensure that Indian journalists based in New Delhi faced no difficulty in getting visas. Barkha and Suhasini were among the initial beneficiaries of his intervention.

3. This was a remarkable gesture by Senator Malik which has made me wonder how we in India would have conducted ourselves in a similar situation. If at the height of a national security situation in India, some reputed Pakistani journalists had tweeted Shri P.Chidambaram, our Home Minister, seeking his intervention for a visa, would he have intervened? If some well-known Pakistani TV journalists had wanted to come to New Delhi to telecast debates on issues relating to India's relations with Pakistan and the US, would we have allowed them in the same way Pakistan's Interior Ministry--- without any apparent constraining intervention from the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence so far--- has allowed Barkha and Suhasini to report from Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad? Would we have allowed a Pakistani journalist like Hamid Mir or Ejaz Haider or Hanif Mohammad or any such personality to telecast a live talk show from New Delhi involving eminent opinion-makers in the brilliant way Barkha has been doing from Islamabad for the last three nights?

4. I have been closely following the despatches of Barkha and Suhasini and the live debates organised by Barkha from Islamabad for the last three nights. What has fascinated me is not only the rich contents of their despatches and debates, but also the freedom with which the two have apparently been allowed to report and discuss live from Islamabad.

5. Their despatches and debates are being watched not only by audiences in India, but also by audiences in Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities have till now not shown the least sign of nervousness that the reportage of Barkha and Suhasini could add to their difficulties in dealing with a very sensitive domestic situation.

6. This speaks very highly of the self-confidence of Senator Malik and his colleagues and their keenness not to do anything that might come in the way of reporting by the Indian journalists even if there be a potential risk of creating difficulties for the Pakistan Govt.

7. Thanks to the scintillating debates organised by Barkha----three so far--- and the crisp and well-analysed reporting of Suhasini, we in India have a better understanding of the storm signals from Pakistan --- in relation to domestic affairs as well as its relations with the US. Barkha and Suhasini need to be complimented in equal measure for maintaining a healthy balance and restraint in their reporting and for not letting themselves be influenced by "the Fix Pakistan" syndrome unfortunately seen in many other TV news channels.

8.Indo-Pakistan relations are generally characterised by petty-mindedness, suspicions and chicanerry on both sides. Senator Rehman Malik needs to be complimented for rising above such negative reflexes in facilitating the coverage of the situation in Pakistan by Barkha and Suhasini.

9. If we in India are fair and mentally generous, we ought to recognise the gesture of Senator Malik for what it is and reciprocate it in good measure from our side in the hope of paving the way for a turning point in the attitude of the two Governments towards each other's media. (10-5-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Strudies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.