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ROLE OF MEDIA IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND PEACE BUILDING

The Kashmir dispute is not only causing damage and untold misery to Kashmiris, both in property and life but also a root cause of confrontation between Pakistan and India for the last six decades.

International Crisis Group Report 2003 indicated Kashmir conflict as a key cause of tension between the two countries. It has proven to be the most stubborn problem of international politics for more than sixty years. This unresolved matter has kept the both neighbouring countries on a dangerous course of confrontation ever since inception. The division of India along communal lines by the imperial rulers was to prove a Pandora box for the future generations. Tremendous drain of resources incurred by the two countries on military build-up and arms- race including the acquisition of nuclear bombs is a result of their confrontation over Kashmir.

Apart from the governments and ‘international multilateral organizations’ for instance, UN and NGOs, media is another significant actor that influences efforts for prevention and resolution of conflicts. Advancement in communication technology has minimized the governments’ monopoly over information and supported individuals and non-state actors to become significant partners in international affairs including conflict resolutions. Recently, news media has become a fundamental arena of violent conflict, from Iraq to Afghanistan or Israeli-Palestinian dispute, media’s role has changed considerably both in resolution or fomenting conflicts. Now people know much more about conflicts as information about developments in national and international affairs reaches sooner to them.

Considering this dispute as the most risky nuclear flashpoint in South Asia and momentous potential of media in advocacy and resolving conflicts, this article analyzes print media’s role in peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue.

By applying content analysis, the study investigates national newspapers of three countries viz Pakistan, India (directly involved) and the USA (as a mediator). Print media was focused as it plays a significant role in shaping the political reality, and readers not only learn about the given issue but also realize the importance attached to it. Further opinion pages are forming as well as reflecting the public opinion, thus, based on the concept of conflict resolution, it analyzed whether their coverage has potential to contribute to peaceful resolution of the issue or not, which is disturbing global peace in general and South Asian stability in particular. The specific objectives are to gauge the frequency of content published with reference to Kashmir issue in selected newspapers of the stakeholders. Also to analyze and compare coverage by newspapers in the light of conflict resolution approach.

Historically, Kashmir has been a victim of communally biased media much before India and Pakistan became two independent nations and Kashmir emerged as a conflict between them. This communally biased media later on in its ‘ultra-nationalist’ avatar spoiled every move for the resolution of the dispute. It has also been observed that the national media of Pakistan and India is always being used by their respective governments to project official stance with reference to Kashmir issue thus, shaped the public minds accordingly. The propaganda creating hatred and distrust among people of both the countries. General A.G. L. McNaughton, the UN mediator highlighted the threat that non-resolution of Kashmir issue could spoil the peace in this region. He stated “as long as dispute over Kashmir continues, it is a serious drain on military, economic and above all, on spiritual strength of the two countries. The political polarization and permanent tension along with increase of political and religious extremism amongst the stakeholders blocks the way of settling this issue and normalize relations between the two countries.

International Crisis Group Report 2003 states “media coverage of Kashmir issue is controlled by the government in Pakistan”. Media in Pakistan is not supporting to bring Pakistan and India closer. Similarly, Josy Josep, ‘Times of India’ opines that “most Indian newspapers are reinforcing the standpoint of Indian government”. ‘Reporters without Borders’ reported “Indian media propagates every social or political issue and favours India’s stance instead of independent approach”. Another research reveals Indian media focuses on killings by militants while Pakistani television projects violation of human rights by Indian forces.

Since 1947, Kashmir issue is internationally-recognized and a focus of several UN resolutions. It is considered an issue of international community that has implications for global peace and security, due to nuclear potential of three powers actually controlling parts of the disputed territory.

Every year, scores of books on different dimensions of the dispute are added to Kashmir bibliography. Extensive research has been done on Kashmir dispute but media’s role in its resolution is neglected by scholars, historians or media professionals. Media had its role in the past but communication technological advancement has significantly increased its responsibility for conflict resolution. While noticing acclaimed significance of media.

Media’s potential to promote peace and reconciliation through news and entertainment programmes has been established by research. Patel expressed “media can play a preventive, constructive and proactive role in conflict prevention”. Manoff described “Media can support peacekeeping operations by exposing violations, publicizing and enforcing human rights and moral norms”. It can act like mediator and create pressure on the governments to address brewing and existing conflicts. It practiced conflict resolution approach by educating the community about existing conflict resolution resources and other successful cases of conflict management.

 

In the light of above discussion, this study explores if Indian and Pakistani media have adopted this approach, which might help in bringing peace to this region. Only resolution of lingering issues between two nuclear neighbours can bring them together. The US media can play a pivotal role by publishing supporting content for conflict resolution between the two states. America’s role in Kashmir is always welcomed by Pakistan because, being a super power’, its media can highlight this issue while suggesting measures for its resolution. In Pakistan, media has the potential to influence public opinion thus, responsible to assist in contemporary conflicts resolution by suggesting applicable solutions.

India claims to be the world’s largest democracy, and in democracy, press is considered to be the most effective fourth pillar of the state. If media put efforts in resolving Kashmir conflict then Pakistan and India can concentrate on development and eventually achieve prosperity. Lee depicts media power as “symbolic and persuasive. He states that media primarily has the potential to control the minds of readers or viewers. Achieving conflict resolution or peace through media is one of the Track Two Diplomacy”. Powerful media messages have the potential to influence attitudes and behaviour of people, a major stage in the process of resolving issues particularly in poor countries where most of the conflicts take place. Pakistan and India are important economies of the region and nuclear powers thus, tension between them is damaging the peaceful environment. Both are spending huge budget on defense whereas majority of their people are deprived of basic needs. Davison remarked that media can fortify international understanding by promoting mediation, negotiation and other conflict resolution mechanisms. Wolfsfeld anticipates that media can positively influence peace and nature of debate about peace process. He suggested that during conflict, media can itself reframe issues to make the conflict more tractable, which in turn, helps the parties in reframing issues and formulating possible solutions”.

Although contribution of media in suggesting peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute has been acknowledged but due to the significance of the issue, media should cope with the situation more positively.

The above cited studies indicate that Kashmir issue is decisive in normalizing relationships between India and Pakistan. Media’s role is critical for peaceful conflict resolution. Therefore, present study has examined the coverage and contribution of hub and influential newspapers representing in India, Pakistan and US in suggesting peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue. Considering Kashmir conflict as an international and core dispute between India and Pakistan, ‘Content Analysis’ of respective newspaper’s coverage on the issue was essential to be evaluated however, considering the mediator’s role of USA between them and the most influential country in United Nations that has the capacity and power to resolve this conflict, American newspaper has also been analyzed. In view of conflict resolution approach, media is expected to act like mediator and create pressure on the governments to resolve the developing and existing conflicts including Kashmir issue during this chaos. Media would be influential if portraying conflict situation with objective approach and avoid provoking abhorrence among public. Also conflict resolutions cannot be observed until all the key contributors realize their due responsibilities. Political thinkers, defense analysts, media, etc. have a role in suggesting peaceful resolution of Kashmir conflict and it will eventually be resolved through combination of negotiation, force and compromise among opposing parties.

(The author is a Resident Doctor at Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences and Hospital Jammu and an Activist /Educator at Unacademy, India’s largest online education platform. He can be reached at: [email protected])