Al Jazeera’s ignorant anti-India narrative


Seema Sirohi 

It is open season on India. And everyone is hunting. Whoever had a grudge while India was the flavour of the season is now in the game, busy getting their two minutes of fame. All provocations are considered fair and guaranteed a spot on popular foreign policy websites.

Not that India hasn’t given reason for disappointment – it has given it in spades lately. A broken politics, lower growth rates, mega scandals, historic blackouts and now even an internal exodus of Indians fearful of attacks by other Indians. Why would anyone miss this easy opportunity and their two minutes of fame? In the Twitter Age, it is literally two minutes.

In 2012, I happened to watch a discussion on Al Jazeera about the flight of North Eastern Indians from various cities after the link helpfully came along on my Twitter feed. It was a mouth-wide-open experience –- not because of new insights but because of the easy ignorance of a certain “expert commentator” and his brazen misuse of television time.

I am no longer a fan but in the past I have appreciated Al Jazeera’s tendency to do stories the other networks won’t touch from parts of the world they won’t go. While living in Jerusalem for two years, I watched Al Jazeera regularly for its perceptive coverage of the Palestinian issue. Its coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza, its reports from the frontlines and stories about the general helplessness of the Palestinians was good journalism. When I moved to Washington two years ago I made sure I had Al Jazeera on cable.

Let’s just say my views have evolved over time, especially in relation to its coverage of India and more so after occasionally checking its website. Al Jazeera appears to try really hard to tell a certain kind of story even when there isn’t one – one of a general oppressiveness of the Indian state, of its army and paramilitary standing heavy in front of shuttered shops, of its majority population ever ready to pounce on its minorities. It has a separate page on “Kashmir: The Forgotten Conflict” where its strange assembly of commentators makes desperate attempts to connect the problem to the Palestinian issue.

For the debate on the what and why of the current crisis around North Eastern Indians, Al Jazeera had someone called Ahmed Quraishi, a Pakistani columnist with News International whose only job seemed to be to string together various disparate anti-India themes he grew up on into a meaningful condemnation of the Indian state. His grasp on facts was so thin and his chicanery so apparent, his co-panelist – former ambassador KC Singh from India – seemed shocked. The third voice – presumably “idependent” – was that of Subir Sinha, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Sinha was polite until the end, patiently explaining to Quraishi the ABC of the subject at hand.

By the end of the program, both Singh and Sinha were either smiling or wincing at Quraishi’s massive ignorance of basic facts. Finally Singh, generally menacingly self-contained, asked: “Does he even know fundamentals of India?” or something to that effect.

But Quraishi’s job was not to know, his job was to mix it up, to muddy, to throw random unrelated arrows and block any understanding of an Indian point of view. He cheerfully talked loudly over Singh, ensuring nothing was intelligible. The anchor, incompetent and innocent of subcontinental history, seemed paralysed.

Does Al Jazeera have an agenda vis-à-vis India? I am beginning to think so.

The channel was birthed with an agenda. Its founding agenda was to counter the pro-Israeli narrative on the Palestinian question and it has done a remarkable job in bringing to light the daily drudgery of life in the occupied territories. It also has mini agendas within the Arab world.

In March, its Beirut correspondent Ali Hashem, resigned over coverage of Syria – he had footage of armed men crossing the river from Lebanon into Syria but the channel quashed it because it would have bolstered the claims of the Syrian regime. Al Jazeera’s refusal to cover the protests in Bahrain while going all out to cover those in Libya and Egypt is well known.

The slick, Qatar-based channel is deeply enmeshed in Arab politics, which makes a mockery of its supposed professionalism. I am not surprised by its stance on the Kashmir issue but I am surprised by how much it seems directed by the narrative of the Pakistani establishment.

Even Indian reporters are not allowed a free voice it seems. I came across a blog post by its India-based reporter, Prerna Suri, about the Mumbai attacks where she referred to the terrorists merely as “attackers” and of course, there was no mention that they were trained, directed and sent by Pakistan.

In fact, Al Jazeera seems to have missed the last five years of life itself when every major terrorist incident has been found to have some Pakistan connection. When the whole world has its eyes open, Al Jazeera’s are shut. Its Kashmir page seems limited to India’s badness. As if there is nothing to report from the other side of the LOC. Gilgit Baltistan – no coverage of the simmering discontent there. It is air brushed away from the pages of “The Forgotten Conflict.”

In the end it is about who controls the narrative and Al Jazeera is helping one side gain traction.


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