Between the Lines
Jingoism and journalism

By Kuldip Nayar
I was studying at the Northwestern University in America in the early fifties when McCarthyism was at its height. Individuals or groups were publicly accused of political disloyalty without proof. Every liberal was dubbed a communist.

It turned neighbour against neighbour. Idealism touched its nadir. Few people thought that the US would be able to get over those dark days. Still it turned the corner in the beginning of the sixties. Old values of liberty and democracy returned with a vengeance. Must we conform? The people asked. It was their right to rebel.

People felt generally ashamed of that phase of bigotry. But the suffering, which the period of McCarthyism brought on people, can never be forgotten. It was a lawless rule. Some lost key positions; some got their unblemished reputation soiled. Some of the best brains left the fields of art and science. Even today most Americans recall that period with horror and hate.

I have no doubt that a decade or so later, the same thing will happen: the US will remember the current time of arrogance and boorishness with similar pangs of conscience. By then, the Bush Administration would be history. And the feeling of unlimited power would be tinged with some humility.

The same society, which has failed to realise that it imposed an unjust and illegal war against Iraq, would introspect and admit that it was wrong in doing so. Wreaking vengeance for the World Trade Centre’s destruction on the civil population, including women and children, in Iraq would be considered an act of inhuman cruelty.

The vision and the message of George Washgington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy would be refurbished. President Bush would be relegated to an insignificant footnote in the history of America. The problem is how long this period of non-accountability would continue. Even if Bush is defeated in 2004, the feeling of being the most powerful country in the world - America has 43 per cent of the world’s wealth - can tempt the likes of Rumsfields and Powells to arbitrarily change the world order.

It is not oil alone. It is the hubris of power. The real America has been pushed to the background by a new breed of power-crazy men at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. The world should be patient till the old America, which liberated itself from Britain and founded a pluralistic society, asserts itself again. The concept of individual freedom and independence are too deeply rooted in the land to be ended by Bush who, in any case, is an appointee of the US Supreme Court.

A US Supreme Court justice, Robert L Jackson, chief US prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials, said on August 12, 1945: "We must make clear to the Germans that the worng for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned instrument of policy."

But the world cannot sit absolutely idle till the old concept of "we, the people" re-emerges in America. The anger generated against the Iraq war is too wide and too deep. The indignation that brought the young and the old together in a series of protests against the WTO is surfacing again. As days go by, the opinion against America’s unilateralism will become more vocal. I only hope that the protest does not become parochial _ that of the Arabs and Muslims. It is a worldwide anger. Let it stay that way.

The problem is to push the governments of our region to take a stand against America’s might which has already exposed the UN. The western media dominates the world. Even people in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who have come on the streets to protest against the war on Iraq, depend on western news agencies for information. The prejudice of the agencies gets reflected in our newspapers and most of the electronic media. And we disseminate what we get.

But this is not the first time it has happened. The Indian media has always been found wanting in the coverage of war or peace outside its shores. Our dependence on western news agencies is pathetic. Our two main news agencies - PTI and UNI - have disseminated whatever Reuters of the UK or the Associated Press of America send. Since the Anglo-American media is controlled by the military during the war, the distortion, the misinformation and the psychological warfare in which they indulge creep into our media.

Nobody is pleading for Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial behaviour. Nor does anyone doubt the victory of Anglo-American forces. The criticism is against the manner in which America, supported by Great Britain, went ahead with the attack without getting the sanction of the UN. It would have come if the two had only waited a bit longer.

Our media’s complaint is that western news agencies did not cover the fierce reisstance the Iraqis put up at Basra and other places. As someone rightly said, the foreign TV networks tried to sell the world "an antiseptic war, one in which there were no torn and bleeding victims." No weapon of mass destruction has been found in Iraq. Still the information the western media put across from day one was nothing but that. First the emphasis was on the removal of Saddam and his two sons, the demand made by Bush. As he changed, the western media too asked for a new regime. In the end, it was the installation of a democratic set-up by the Iraqis. Woefully, the western media has become a willing tool in the hands of America and the UK.

We were run down when we caved in during the emergency (1975-77). I am certain that the press in the west, with all its democratic traditions, would behave in the same way if something like the emergency was imposed in America or the UK. Like us, they would also crawl. All the Pulitzer Prize winners would have a question mark against their credibility.

Writing well is not enough, writing the truth is more important. For the sake of "national interest" the media should not swerve from its path. Journalists have to be objective. In a democracy, the media cannot afford to have even an iota of doubt raised about what it says. What holds good for India is true of both Pakistan and Bangladesh or, for that matter, most countries in the third world. There too, the media uses the copy from the western agency. And it did so to cover the Iraq war.

It is strange that India should see Pakistan and Bangladesh through Reuters or AP and vice-versa. Of course, during even a small conflict, as was seen at Kargil, the truth becomes a casualty because of the jingoism that takes over. But an exchange of even a tainted report by Indians and Pakistanis may be better than what is available now. The problem with India and Pakistan is that their minds are so prejudiced against each other that they would rather depend on the western news agencies than something that has the authentic flavour of the region and truth.