The media and Surjit Sarjit Sarjeet Surjeet Sarabjit Sarabjeet

Update to my earlier blogpost on Surjeet/Sarabjit – it seems that my initial tweet was correct:

According to the timeline compiled by CNN-IBN, the news of Sarabjit’s releases was ‘broken’ by the Pakistani TV channels at 6.50 pm (IST) on June 26, followed by the Indian channels picking up the news ten minutes later. Talking to the Indian media after crossing Wagah, Surjeet said that the media had created this confusion, as no summary of Sarabjit’s case had been forwarded and therefore the question of his release didn’t arise. And also that in the Urdu script Sarjeet and Sarabjit look very similar.

When Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar clearly said “Sarjeet” in his initial comment to Headlines Today, India, an excited anchor replied using the name “Sarabjit”. That’s where the confusion apparently began as Mr Babar replied repeating the name the anchor had used. Obviously he wasn’t that clued in to the details of both cases, because when she made a reference to ‘bomb blasts’ (that Sarabjit, not Surjeet, was convicted for) Mr Babar didn’t correct her. Had he been one of the activists or lawyers involved in either case, he would have replied, “What bomb blasts? The man (Surjeet) was arrested and convicted for spying.” Here’s the  Youtube link to that clip.

Kudos and thanks to The Hindu for acknowledging its own mistake and examining how the media got it so wrong. Read the report here, and the editorial here (also below, must read).

What’s in a name? A life

No excuses, no nitpicking. The entire media got the ‘Sarabjit to be released’ story wrong — including The Hindu, in its early editions before we stopped press at midnight to make the correction. If anything, the Sarabjit/Surjeet Singh mix-up has held a mirror to the beast that the media has become: easily excitable, know-it-all and supremely confident to the extent of being tone deaf even when Pakistan’s Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar was clearly saying on Indian television channels — and by extension to the tuned-in print media — that “Surjeet Singh” was entitled to be released. The media stands exposed but still does not have the grace to admit it was wrong, let alone introspect or apologise for giving false hope to the family of a condemned man. Worse, a section of the media has topped it all up with theories galore on why Islamabad made the “midnight switch”. Ironically, because of the nature of the story and how it unfolded, Sarabjit’s family at least got to air its disappointment. But what of all those mistakes that are being made by the media in the rush to be first with the news? The insensitive line of questioning to bring out raw emotion on camera, the crowding around rescue operations for a “quote”, or ruining investigations by breezing into crime scenes? In this particular case, there is the fig leaf of an excuse in the two names sounding similar but the media was clearly not listening and kept repeating ‘Sarabjit’ so often that on at least one TV show, Mr. Babar himself got confused and used that name for the man he had referred to only seconds earlier as ‘Surjeet.’

In the India-Pakistan context, the role of the media on both sides has been particularly dubious; leading the pack in baying for blood at the smallest of irritants even while talking Track-II, overly obsessing with certain issues, and allowing emotions and rhetoric to determine the narrative instead of informed discourse. To be fair to both governments, the Foreign Offices in recent months have been restrained in the face of provocation from the media. If Islamabad was at pains to explain to the local media that granting ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status to India was not equivalent to making it Pakistan’s ‘Most Favourite Nation’, officials of the Ministry of External Affairs sought to drive home the fact that both Kashmir and the Mumbai terror attacks got equal play in the last round of Foreign Secretary-level talks. Both governments have been trying to create space for each other to navigate the slippery route to peaceful co-existence and cooperation, made all the more treacherous by the media which has allowed shrill voices to flourish to the detriment of sane and studied opinion. Mercifully, the media-created fiasco that made the Pakistan government — already under siege for other reasons — look bad did not stall Surjeet Singh’s release. His return should now set the stage for the repatriation of all Indian and Pakistani prisoners who remain incarcerated across the border despite completing their sentences.

2 Responses

  1. So the guy you are supporting admits he was a RAW agent, bursting so called AMANKI ASHA


    • Surjeet Singh was arrested in 1982, charged, tried and convicted for being a spy. Initially sentenced to be executed, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989.He served his life sentence and eventually freed, after a lifetime, 31 years, in prison. This step to release him should have been taken five years earlier, in conformity with international laws, Pakistan’s own laws, and humanity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: