The Hindu's articles on past events at the Line of Control have set of a storm. Some readers dismiss the reports as a fabricated lie. Others dismiss them as Rawalpindi's propaganda. Both groups hold the opinion that the reports were designed to demoralise India's armed forces. Analysis on the South Asian Idea (SAI) blog, for example, portrays the stories as going against India's "national interest'. It argues that the article plays into the hands of the enemy by diminishing our own forces' morale.
This is an interestingly-phrased argument. The author of the SAI blogpost does not actually deny Indian forces have committed atrocities. Instead he or she argues that the act of revealing these atrocities is the real problem. I disagree wholeheartedly.
Jaideep Prabhu has a very thoughtful take on this episode here. In a sort of 'preamble', he writes the following:
"Unlike those offended by the article, I do not think that the events show the Indian Army in a bad light. Having studied conflicts over centuries, one accepts that tragedies occur when people with weapons under a lot of stress are put in extreme environments.
This is not to impose an equality between India and Pakistan – the latter has acquired an international reputation for aiding and abetting terrorists while the former, us guys, may have problems but do not indulge in such activities. It is also incredibly obtuse to think that one side would not give as good as it gets, no matter what the orders are from HQ – unit cohesion would not last the week otherwise."
I share Jaideep's opinions and tweeted something very similar last month. Now that you know where I stand on whether Pakistan gains any moral(e) advantage, let's move to the Hindu's coverage.
I asked myself this question: If I had access to the the UNMOGIP documents and I was able to verify their authenticity, would I write about them? My answer was 'Yes'. When I reached that answer, I realised it did not matter how I got the documents. It could have been someone at the "Media Facility" as indicated in Major Lucero's first email to Jaideep; or another contact at the UN Headquarters in New York, where the Major indicated these documents were sent. In fact, as the SAI blogpost author suggests, the source may well have been the ISI's New Delhi station chief himself.
Frankly, though, once I could confirm the documents were indeed from UNMOGIP, where I got them from was no longer important. The only thing that would matter is that I reported their contents in a balanced and responsible manner. Here's how I would do it.
Since Pakistan's complaints were not been investigated, I would present their version as claims and allegations. Here's how The Hindu did it:
"...The allegations, laid out in confidential Pakistani complaints to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan..."
"...The most savage cross-LoC violence Indian forces are alleged to have participated in..."
"..The Pakistani military claimed to have recovered an Indian-made watch..."
"...the Bandala massacre is alleged to have been carried out by irregulars backed by Indian special forces..."
"...Indian troops, Pakistan alleged, killed a JCO... and three soldiers in a raid on a post in the Baroh sector..."
There are at least four more instances where the word 'alleged' appears in the article.
So here's an experiment: remove the words 'alleged' and 'claimed' each time they appear. As any practitioner of journalism, law or diplomacy will tell you, the meanings of the sentences would be dramatically altered. From one-sided allegations, they would become statements of fact. The Hindu has been very deliberate in not allowing this to happen.
Approach the Indian government and armed forces for an official response. The Hindu approached the Ministry of Defence (which only responded after the report was published), the Ministry of External Affairs, a military spokesperson and an army officer who served in India's Northern Command when some of the incidents allegedly occurred.
Here, it is important here to explain how this business of 'official comment' works. One individual who clearly has no reporting experience, reached some embarrassingly premature conclusions because of his lack of understanding of this process. Your source and the official spokesman are not always the same person. So, the source could well have been a disgruntled ministry staffer with access to the UNMOGIP files. While the spokesman who has no knowledge of the exchange of information with your source, would deny the story.
Sometimes it gets more complicated. It isn't unheard of for the spokesman to be your source, and yet simultaneously issue a denial on behalf of the ministry!
Write the story presenting the various allegations and responses. This step is the easiest. The hard part of journalism is the stuff you do before you sit down to write. It is the coaxing, convincing and cajoling of officials to hand over information you shouldn't have. Strike that, it's actually the many hours you spend drinking tea with them before you ever approach them for information. It is the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of pages of research you go through to understand the contours of the story. It is the meetings with editors to shape and direct your focus. All of that happens before pen is ever put on paper.
As far as I am concerned, there is no doubt to the authenticity of the UNMOGIP documents. Jaideep found two of them while conducting his own research. Others are possibly still classified and therefore unavailable on the UN website.
Still, what is in doubt is the veracity of Pakistan's complaints contained therein. For my money, the writer has made this explicitly clear. To some this may sound like a load of journalese, but as any one who pays attention to linguistic details will tell you, that is where the devil lies.