Media need to be fearless, critical, balanced while covering Defence forces

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MLF
Discussion on 'Reporting From The War Zone', during the third and final day of the Festival at the Lake Club.

Panelists at Military Literature Festival (MLF -2018 ) called for a more fearless, balanced and critical approach while covering the defence Forces, particularly the Army, to ensure transparency and credibility of information flow to public.

Participating in a discussion on ‘Reporting From The War Zone’, during the third and final day of the MLF here at the Lake Club, they also suggested a proper training module for journalists covering frontline battles and exploits of soldiers during counter insurgency operations.

The eminent group of participants included former United Kingdom Chief of Staff 3rd Division Brigadier Justin Maciejewski and his wife Rebecca Maciejewski, Media producer Arati Singh, Chandigarh based reporter who had covered Kargil, Vikramjit Singh, besides Colonel James Sutherland and Captain Jay Singh Sohal of UK Army.

Calling for a transparent system for decisions pertaining to announcement of Gallantry Awards, the MLF panelists said there were certain misgivings amongst senior commanders regarding particular citations. Rebecca Maciejewski stated that governments needed to be more forthcoming in engaging journalists while sharing information leading to such decisions.

Seconding the thought, Vikramjit Singh, who has covered the frontline operations twice in Jammu & Kashmir, said that regimental affiliations at times do play a partisan role in awarding gallantry awards like Param Veer Chakr. Earlier, highlighting the psychological trauma faced by soldiers on war duty, Vikramjit brought alive the poignant tale of Indian personnel honouring the dead Pakistani intruders killed during their Kargil conquest by performing their last rites.

“At first, our men were seething with anger at the thought of being asked to rest the bodies of Pakistani soldiers who had killed their comrades, but later, senior commanders consoled them, explaining they at the end of the day they were soldiers too,” he said.

Underscoring the need to train young journalists to acquaint them with the sensitivity required for frontline reportage, Arati Singh called for more systematic investment into this vital aspect. Youngsters aspiring to take on this very difficult role of narrating real war stories of valour and heroism needed to be nurtured, she added.

Sharing their thoughts on the nuances of war coverage, Brig. Justin Maciejewski and Captain Jay Singh Sohal of UK Army cautioned against the temptation to go for an exclusive story. Real war has real people, with the lives of their families and friends entangled with the fate of the war, said Captain Jay Singh Sohal, while referring to the London beheading of a UK soldier by Jihadists, the video of which was sadly aired by many channels. “We have to be more sensitive to the lives of all those involved,” he said, adding that by irresponsibly publishing the ‘content’ we only end up promoting the nefarious designs of the perpetrators.

In this age of information, it was getting increasingly difficult to ascertain the veracity of facts, said Major James Sutherland, highlighting the role of the editorial checks and balances in the fight to be more ‘instant’ than others.

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