Kashmir Floods: Media coverage regains balance

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Srinagar: When the contingent of reporters from New Delhi descended on Srinagar on September 8 to cover the deluge in Kashmir, they invariably focused on the rescue and relief operation mounted by Army to the exclusion of other parallel efforts, a strategy that generated resentment in Valley. But in the two weeks after the great flood sunk Srinagar, the media coverage of the catastrophe has gone from a breathless round the clock projection of the Army’s operation to a more rounded articulation of the evolving situation, thanks to a rearguard action by the print media, both local, national and international.
In recent days, the reports on flood have not only reflected the commendable role played by the Army but also underscored the role of the volunteer initiative, both individual and group effort. Besides, the reports have been filed that have highlighted the humanitarian fallout of the tragedy, something that was missing in the initial spotlight on the deluge.
“What put people off was that the initial coverage of the calamity tried to distract attention from the unfolding human tragedy to the rescue effort. Media also implicitly brought into play the narrative that Army was reaching out to people who have been hostile to it,” said PDP leader Naeem Akhtar. “A refrain that marked every electronic report was that Kashmiris should now be grateful to Army for the help. This generated resentment even though I am sure Army would not have wanted its operations politicized”.
But as the days passed, some in-depth reports and write-ups drilled some sense and nuance in the coverage. Focus soon shifted to the dedicated volunteer effort on the ground which was being further buttressed by the return of the hundreds of Kashmiri students and professionals from other parts of India including many from Kashmiri Diaspora.
“Natural calamities are times of great truth, of togetherness, of closing ranks, of forgetting hatred and bitterness. Unfortunately, the Jammu and Kashmir floods initially appeared to be enhancing the bitterness between Kashmiris and other Indians,” wrote noted journalist Samar Halarnkar in Hindustan Times. “Many locals who benefitted from the rescue efforts of the armed forces certainly might feel that way, but the broad indications were that these hopes of reconciliation were waning, as some made sure the truth was twisted”.
Similarly a long write-up by senior journalist Jyoti Malhotra in India Today describes the humanitarian situation unfolding on the ground. “Certainly, the 2014 flood has irrevocably changed the way Srinagar looks at itself, as well as the rest of the country,” Malhotra writes. “But as it waits for its fate to change, it focuses on tales of heroism that no one can take away.”
The reportage is now becoming more and more diversified than the earlier exclusive focus on the role of Army. The stories now highlight the human tragedy wrought by the catastrophic flood.
There are stories also about the heroic efforts of the individual and group volunteers and about the indomitable spirit of the affected people ready to fight back. And there are stories about the massive economic fallout of the calamity, with Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS) pegging the total loss at Rs 100000 crore.
“Earlier, media put the politics than the disaster upfront,” said Hameeda Nayeem, the convener of KCSDS. “Now there is a shift in the coverage towards the tragedy on the ground. Kashmiris expect the media to stay true to the truth rather than ply an agenda”.

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