by Anmol Saxena
The job of a journalist is becoming increasingly difficult. Technological innovations have given such speed to information flow that accuracy of information finds it difficult to match. Once upon a time, the job definition of a journalist was to inform, and investigate. Now it is more of making sense of the clutter which streams through various platforms and spreads faster than 4G.
This piece is not, however, about the trials of journalism. Many are critical of Al Jazeera’s ways, as of any other platform like the CNN or the BBC. Critique is always welcome. But I had to write back when a self-professed fan of our network and a responsible fellow journalist attached motives to our coverage.
In my eagerness to hold on to an avid supporter of Al Jazeera, the kinds who made, besides our journalism, what we are today, I am responding to this critique by Seema Sirohi published by Firstpost.
The show in contention was a discussion show in which three participants, one each from India, Pakistan and London, were participating. Our guest bookers in Doha are always mindful of the kind of voices invited to participate, but at times, credentials do not necessarily translate into an articulate debater. But as a journalist and a viewer, we have to have the patience for all kinds of voices and points of view, even if they at variance from our own. It is undeniably a challenge to find a balanced voice in states that are going through strife and conflict. More often than not, you get voices that are emotionally surcharged or aggressively defensive. But it would be unfair if I did not point out that our anchor, Ghida Fakhry, did interject and told Ahmed Qureishi, “make your point and allow Ambassador Singh to respond”. She was conscious that all the panelists get adequate amount of airtime. Sirohi’s observation of our anchor being “incompetent and innocent of sub-continental history” is outright misplaced. Our anchors are trained to guide the discussion and not demonstrate their knowledge of an issue, unlike many TV channels where the anchor himself/herself is the debater.
I wish Sirohi would have spent more time on the channel and watched when Al Jazeera was telling the India Growth story, the Indian Hospital story, the Indian Millionaires story, etc. But questions abound about India Poverty, India Naxalism, India Riots. We told those stories too.
If I was sitting in Washington, I probably would not have liked the portrayal of my state and the pictures of our “army and paramilitary standing heavy in front of shuttered shops” either. But it’s not about what we “like”, it’s more about what “it is”. The award winning journalist Casey Kauffman’s package which preceded the discussion is difficult to find fault with, no matter what journalistic parameters you apply.
Let’s come to Kashmir. That is a website special for a section called Spotlight. In the last five years of its existence, Spotlight has examined glaring issues from Sudan, to Libya to France to the drought in Sahel and also Kashmir. There are many opinions on the page that I personally differ from, as might many others. But we cannot and will not “editorialise” opinions. A closer scrutiny of the webpages will also tell you that we have examined the other side of Kashmir too, including the role of the Pakistani Army and the stringent strident voices in the valley itself.
When Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram in a world exclusive interview with us disclosed for the first time the content of the dossier which the government of India submitted to Pakistan after 26/11, many in Pakistan accused Al Jazeera of playing into Indian propaganda. In short we have been accused by many sides of many twisted convoluted tales of conspiracy. There is nothing new in that. Our growing popularity and reach have resulted in convincing even one of the most “informed” citizens of the world, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to vouch for what she called, the “real news” of Al Jazeera. “Real news” — that’s the crux. And that’s what a lot of people have problems with.
When you can’t find fault in coverage and content, there is only one way left to counter a growing platform, and that is to accuse it of harbouring an agenda, which one, however, is yet to be figured out.
The headline of Sirohi’s article refers to Al Jazeera as being ignorant. However, “ignorance” and having an “agenda” or “bias” are contradictory in nature and we can’t be accused of both at the same time!
Having disputed most of the charges levelled, I must plead guilty to one. Our correspondent did refer to the 26/11 accused as an “attacker” and not a “terrorist” as she was merely following the editorial guidelines of our network which clearly stipulates that the terms “terrorist” or “fundamentalist” are to be avoided unless attributed to. We use the term “attacker” instead of “terrorist” and “violent group” instead of “fundamentalist group”, irrespective of the location of the violent act. It may sound jarring to people who have grown up on traditional western media and it’s hegemonic narrative.
Anmol Saxena is Chief of Bureau, Al Jazeera English, India. All views expressed here are my own.
Read Seema Sirohi’s article Shocker: Al Jazeera’s ignorant anti-India narrative
Seema Sirohi responds to Saxena
Anmol Saxena has done a hard day’s work in defending his channel. What he describes as the increasingly difficult job of sorting through the myriad streams of information and the crowd of talking heads is exactly the question I posed in my column. The channel chose someone who is known to parrot Pakistani establishment views. He has neither credentials nor the ability to articulate coherently. A little background check on him from independent and respected Pakistani analysts would have solved the problem.
The gentleman’s enthusiasm to just keep talking – by now a well-proven tactic of agenda-loving people – over the voices of others was a ploy, not his passion for a cause. Give me the benefit of some experience in being able to sort wheat from chaff. I have been a journalist for nearly three decades and have not always been “sitting in Washington.” Anyway why should that be a problem?
The anchor feebly tried to interject but never succeeded. If she were familiar with sub-continental history, she would have known how the Pakistani guest was spinning it and to what end. In my opinion, the anchor failed to intelligently “guide” the discussion. The point about the need for multiple views was unnecessary since intelligent viewers and reporters seek that by definition.
I am happy that the channel has received awards and accolades from important people. But if I might be permitted to think that Mr Chidambaram chose to reveal details of the dossier via Al Jazeera, it might be because he knew it would get the attention of the people in Pakistan. It was a strategy, I would conjecture.
And finally, if you want to refer to terrorist groups that openly attack innocent people with the intention to kill the maximum number as merely “violent groups,” that is your fine editorial line, but one that makes a viewer wonder. As I did. I also wonder how the channel defines terrorism.
I wish you luck in your aim to break the “hegemonic narrative “ of the “traditional western media.” There is a western narrative, no doubt, but it appears you are building an equally controversial one — at least on India.