Media Has No Right To Barge In With A Camera When Defence Forces Sort Out Internal Issues

 Media Has No Right To Barge In With A Camera When Defence Forces Sort Out Internal IssuesANI Screenshot
Snapshot
  • While the Army addresses its problems, media should act responsibly and the government must not take the situation lightly

When the video of the BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav surfaced in the social media for the first time between 8 and 9 January, it took the nation by surprise and shock. Since then video messages from few more soldiers of CRPF, Army and Air Force have surfaced and extended the domain of grievance to cover inter-alia pay scale, leave, service conditions and wrongful use of subordinate staff for personal work by the superior officers. Sensing the hidden TRP potential, television channels- regional and national, have run these stories round the clock for few days ensuring that these reach the nook and corner of the country.

It appears there is a pattern to these releases and also that the list can grow bigger as days pass. With the element of surprise fading gradually with time, the tidings have been evoking broadly two kinds of response among viewers. Large numbers of people tend to be credulous and they are shocked by the alleged exploitation. Those fewer, but discerning, are in a fix. They are not easily swayed except on facts and at the same time they have no access to information from the other side i.e., authorities. Be that as it may, the sheer impact of these developments has, irrespective of the factual accuracy of the disclosures, thanks to the hyperactive media, far-reaching consequences for the country - especially so, considering the sensitivity of the present time.

The shabby treatment to soldiers at the lower rungs, as alleged and sparsely shown in the videos, is morally indefensible. Rightly starting from the Union Home Minister and including the Army Chief, the authorities concerned have promptly plunged into action. However, taking the grievances at their face value, it is obvious those maladies must have existed for the past several decades and have not suddenly sprung up. Therefore, this sudden outbursts coming in close succession, raise questions.

Intriguingly, along with specific issues of corruption like poor quality food, videos impinging on wider policy matters like discrimination of pay scale between military and para military forces have been agitating the social media space. Such mix-up can potentially mislead the nation and generate an unreasonably high level of public discomfort and anger. Whether or not military and para-military forces should have identical pay scale and perks are important policy matters requiring careful and meritorious deliberation of a myriad of factors. Certainly social media is not the place to raise questions on such topics.

In the whole episode, it is astonishing to see the way bulk of the TV channels conducted themselves. Based on a few videos, they almost came to judgements about the service conditions of nearly two-and-a-half million strong armed forces. They seemed to be unmindful of the fact that they have been handling an extremely sensitive issue involving national security. Nor did they appear a wee bit concerned that their action could potentially encourage disloyalty or breach of discipline in the armed forces that could become irreversible. Striking a highly patriotic posture and self appointing themselves as the guardians of the soldiers they prejudged the issue and began media trial of the whole institution of the defence forces.

Some of them went to the extent of what bordered on insinuation and hidden incitement. In a discussion on a Kolkata-based TV channel, a guest, with the tacit encouragement of the anchor, went to the extent of comparing the condition of the soldiers in the country to that which existed during the Sepoy Mutiny under the British rule!

So as not to be singled out for such acts of indiscretion, the TV channels interspersed their programmes with a sprinkling of ex-officials of armed forces, most of who joined the discourse, vigorously slighting and condemning the authorities, of which they were part and parcel not long ago, losing sight of the macro picture and sensitivity of the issue.

Finally, it is not yet clear whether the outbursts by some soldiers so far were spontaneous or otherwise. The memory of the ‘award wapsi’ is still green in people’s minds. No doubt authorities have plunged into action and they ought to do so without wasting time. The Army Chief has announced two track initiatives. First, he welcomed complaints and assured redressal. Second, he warned against breaching discipline by leveraging social media and sounded punishments. Hopefully, this will stop further escalation of this extremely sensitive issue.

Sudip Kar Purkayastha is an author. His latest book ‘On the Road to Freedom: Footprints on Indian History’ is a two volume work. A former banker and consultant Purkayastha was also the founding editor of ‘Indian Journal of Bank Marketing’. He had written articles in several national dailies & journals.

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