Reporting Live from the War Front

By Sohail Parwazpower of media44

Any profession that doesn’t contain thrill, adventure and challenge in it, is generally not measured as a profession or at least the daring folks don’t adopt it as a career. The military service invariably is considered the most thrilling, challenging and risky profession; however in media field war reporting is also no less; a hazardous career. Pakistan never had this trend until mid-nineties and the main reasons were backward technology and slow paced media. Until 1971 war the country had just one state channel; Pakistan Television and that would cover everything. The Kashmir War 1948, Pak-India War 1965, Rann of Kutch conflict and East Pakistan debacle of 1971 were covered mainly by Inter Services Public Relations Directorate. The news, photos and footages were provided to the print and electronic media by the ISPR Directorate. Till that date the Pakistani media never had a concept or idea of war correspondence while on the other hand in the outer world, the war correspondents covered even the World War II for their dailies and the channels like BBC.

Edward R. Murrow will remain a legend in the history as a war correspondent. During Hitler’s ruthless air assault on London, which turned to be the nightmares for the Londoners, Murrow got a breakthrough when he began his radio broadcast in the most unique way and voice; “This is London”. He would always end his broadcast with “good night and good luck,” a manifestation Londoners used as a goodbye during the air raids. When he returned home, Murrow received a welcome from President Roosevelt and became one of America’s first news celebrities.

It was not only Murrow. After all who can forget the all-time shinning name of Ernest Hemingway, a novelist of his own class? Ernest Hemingway was a soldier first. He drove ambulances during the Word War I as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Hemingway did two remarkable things; fighting gallantly and writing fearlessly. In the 1930s, after his novels had earned him acclaim and fame, he worked as a journalist and anti-fascist fighter during the Spanish Civil War, sending out dispatches for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). In World War II, military officials kept Hemingway to a landing craft during the main invasion force in Normandy.

There are many other shinning names of the war correspondents from the world over. It’s not restricted to males only. There are many famous names of female war reporters as well who have been covering the actions right from the FDLs (forward defensive lines).  The names like late Marguerite Higgins who was America’s first female combat correspondent, late Gloria Emerson spent some of her childhood in Saigon, and returned to Vietnam in the 1950s, freelancing for the New York Times, The BBC’s Orla Guerin, Channel 4’s Lindsey Hilsum, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr and then courageous woman of the century Sky News’ Alex Crawford who rode into Tripoli on a rebel pick-up truck, providing thrilling live broadcasts from a satellite dish powered by a cigarette lighter socket. Crawford, mother of four, later outmaneuvered her competitors again by becoming the first television journalist to report live from Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. The list of combat correspondents will remain incomplete if the name of most famous female war reporter Kate Adie is not mentioned. The lady is famous for her historic broadcast from Tiananmen Square protests in China, 1989. The only unhappy thing is that none of them is from the Subcontinent.

Now contrary to that if we look back at our media we hardly find any name of notable war correspondent for the reason that our media gurus never thought of training the brave and energetic lot in this field. During General Mirza Aslam Beg’s tenure, on his desire ISPR Directorate arranged a short war corresponding and battle inoculation training for the young reporters of the national dailies. They were made part of the field exercise ‘ZARB-E-MOMIN’ that was conducted by the Pakistan Army in year 1989. Over the decades new weapon system and hardware, including helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, sophisticated air defense system, heavy machine guns and other high technology items, many of them indigenously produced had been inducted, hence the army decided to field-test them in the biggest maneuvers of their history, involving almost three corps, an armored division minus, two artillery divisions, one air defense division and the Pakistan Air Force. The young journalists were provided the uniforms and equipment and were attached with various formations for reporting. The stingers reported live from the front about the Blue Land and Fox Land activities and interestingly the stories were seriously covered by the papers on front pages with banner lines. Unfortunately the young reporters never had any subsequent opportunity to polish their training thus with the passage of time that batch perished and became part of history.

As a matter of fact after the 9/11 drama and with the mushrooming of private television channels and FM radio stations the need of war correspondents was felt more than ever before. There was a lot to cover in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere. On one hand the international reporters weren’t missing the opportunity while in Pakistan the novice and amateur channels those lacked professionalism were wasting their time more on studio programs. The fame hungry journalists found it an excellent tool for self-projection. The illogical priorities were laid down and stress was not on the news itself and the basic spirit of any program but on ‘motion-selfies’.

This attracted the starved lots from all walks of life. Those who didn’t know the alphabet of media were dying for appearing on mini-screen. Media fever hit the ambitious folks. Those who had money, straight away went for obtaining licenses and those who were penniless considered themselves Casanovas around hence made desperate backdoor entries. The unfortunate media was witnessing a new dawn. The muck didn’t stop there. A trespassing trend started by these new kids on the block. Considering their reporting prerogative as an authority to go for anyone’s media trial and screen prosecution they started ridiculing the individuals and when found no resistance or notice by any quarter, they leaped towards sacred and security institutions.

It took another turn when they marginalized the armed forces and in the name of criticism started the character assassination of them. The Official Secret Act 1923 spells clearly that any violator of it is to be tried by the court martial but here our worthy anchorpersons and reporters were freely reporting the highly classified promotions, postings and locations of the formations thru their write-ups. Even the ORBATs (Order of Battles) were given in the petty news hookups. Any small piece of information for which enemy had to sweat hard was being presented to her in a plate.

Now, in the heaven like cozy studios these anchorpersons and their favourite participants would sit and comfortably criticise the army moves, strategies, planning and operations, as San Tzu, Rommel and Montgomery. They picked up the guts to humiliate any general as an individual and the soldiers as an organisation and then shamelessly insisted upon it as their right and duty. The most recent drama was the unethical plot executed by GEO channel soon after a life attempt on their anchor Hamid Mir. The stubborn channel was not willing to admit its fault until they faced an immense public pressure and protest by the masses of Pakistan.

It’s not only GEO rather a number of other channels also who are in habit of kicking the primed bomb. It’s high time that media should be trained in two things seriously; following the media ethics strictly and war reporting. The GEO’s childish and shameful act has provided ample reasons to train the media in ethics and reporting field. While, for war reporting the opportunity is readily available. The young and energetic journalists are very keen to learn war reporting, hence it is time to train the serious and professional lot and get rid of boggy stuff. The ISPR Directorate is suggested to ask once again like past, for the names of such journalists from all the newspapers and channels of Pakistan and it will definitely prove to be fruitful; the war correspondents will have the taste of battle which will make them more responsible while reporting, the propagandists will have no reason to criticise or allege the forces for baseless so-called crimes, the false and pseudo journalist lot will be weeded out, the channels those who don’t send their reporters to war front will have no right to air their indigenously prepared footages, instead will be bound to run ISPR clips and stories and above all these journalists will act as bridge between the army and the public.

It’s right time to recruit the war correspondents and let the viewers get the firsthand account from the journalists of their choice and as we know the Armed forces also desired so. The viewers have seen enough of reporting live from the national assembly, live from the Supreme Court, live coverage of long march, live from the accident scene or live from some politician’s public meeting. The time has come that public should be provided the coverage live from the battle front also. Why not to give a chance to them to see that how many ‘innocent locals’ are killed in any air strike or during the ground operation and what are the hardships which the combat teams face during any operation.
The ball is in media’s court so let see them how they response to this suggestion for a real genuine high rating.

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