Originally Published 2013-03-22 00:00:00 Published on Mar 22, 2013
If proof were required, the DMK-Congress spat on the Sri Lanka related vote at the UN Human Rights Council has once again provided it. Foreign Affairs will increasingly impinge on national politics.
Media's role as foreign affairs impinge on national politics
If proof were required, the DMK-Congress spat on the Sri Lanka related vote at the UN Human Rights Council has once again provided it. Foreign Affairs will increasingly impinge on national politics.

It follows, therefore, that conditions be created for electorate to be educated, made conversant with nuances of foreign affairs.

The burden for this responsibility should have fallen on the ample shoulders of the electronic media which opened up along with the economy in 1993. But it shrugged off this responsibility for a variety of reasons.

In this context, an inexplicable amnesia appears to have gripped Doordarshan which should have stood centre stage at a time when the world was observing the tenth anniversary of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003.

CNN had established itself as the pioneer in bringing a war into the world's drawing rooms during the Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. BBC, having been beaten in this operation by the transatlantic cousin, pulled itself out of this reversal and, within two months, launched the BBC-World Service TV.

CNN and BBC became part of the war effort during the 2003 invasion, giving currency to the expression "embedded journalists". Al Jazeera, I recall, had made a debut. So unpopular was it with the US Generals in charge of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Qatar owned channel's offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed.

The effect of Al Jazeera coverage tended to mobilize Afghan and Arab nationalism against US occupation. It had thrown the monkey-wrench in the propaganda war the twin alliance had planned for the two theatres. It was only in the wake of the so called Arab Spring that the Amir of Qatar, fearing for his own throne because of the winds of change in the region, placed the credibility of Al Jazeera at the disposal of the Western action in Libya and Syria, to boost the dwindling credibility of CNN and BBC. In so doing, Al Jazeera has compromised whatever credibility it had built up.

What DD had done under its Director General, Yaqoob Quraishi, was to set aside a prime time slot for an hour every day and given a group of journalists, camera units, technical hands total independence. The project had all round support from the establishment for a simple reason: Indian journalists must be witness to a major war in a vital region. Senior Indian correspondents were scattered across Iraq, the Kurdish areas, Basra, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Paris, London, Washington.

Never in the history of Indian journalism had a war in foreign lands been covered so comprehensively.

As soon as you mention "foreign coverage" the knee jerk response from major channels is: "foreign affairs" does not fetch us TRP ratings". Here is an occasion, the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, when DD can nail a lie. Amitabh Bachchan's Kaun Banega Crorepati had the highest ratings those days. Iraq war coverage matched those figures.

Some of the stories brought out truths which would have remained hidden had Satish Jacob, Sankarshan Thakur, Syed Kazmi, Harinder Baweja, Vaiju Naravane in Paris, Sanjay Suri in London, not searched for the unexplored angle.

Triumphalist choreography attended the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue at Baghdad's Firdous Square, outside Palestine hotel. Ragae Omar of the BBC, an outstanding TV reporter otherwise was unfortunately commandeered by headquarters to produce high decibel commentary to coincide with the pulling down of the statue. "Oh, they are coming from all directions.... The Iraqi people rejoicing in the moment of triumph." Let the truth be told: Iraqi people did not some out dancing on the streets. In any case the statue itself was not pulled down by the crowds. A US marine placed a thick noose around Saddam's head and the rope was pulled by a crane to cause the statue to tilt over. The crowds were mostly waiters from Palestine hotel and other bystanders.

In between, Vice President Dick Cheney was to appear on TV, exhorting the people of Iraq who, alas, would just not materialize.

To save the situation Ayatullah Baqar ul Hakim's help was sought to mobilize the Shias of Sadr city, a Shia ghetto on the outskirts of Baghdad. That is when the Shias came out in large numbers, desecrating Saddam's posters.

In his speech, Cheney thanked the "Religious leaders" for saving a triumphal choreography from becoming a total flop.

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