Pragmatic | Good news is no news

The challenge is to overturn the old adage, especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Good news is no news. It is an overused cliché but that perhaps best explains why we don’t hear enough — or rather hear nothing — about positive stories from Kashmir. Two stories are put forth here as evidence of this argument.

One, ten phases of polling for panchayat elections in Kashmir have been completed today, without any violence. More than 80 percent of the electorate has turned out to vote so far despite an unequivocal call by the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan-based jehadi groups to boycott these polls. In fact, the voting percentages have been a good 10-15 percent higher in Kashmir valley as compared to the Jammu region. It is a story — even if you were to ignore the clear message that these polls are a win-win situation for both the Kashmiris and the state government — which is important enough to deserve reasonable coverage from the media, and elicit informed opinion from commentators and analysts.

Two, earlier this week, Indian government approved the Skill, Empowerment and Employment Special Scheme (SEE J&K) as a 100% Central assisted scheme in the next five years to cover one lakh youth in Jammu & Kashmir. The Scheme is scheduled to commence from June-July 2011 and the first set of placements are likely to take place by October-November 2011. In the first year, 15000 youth will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. This is not a magic wand that will immediately solve the problem of unemployment in Kashmir. But it is a good start nevertheless that needs to be promoted, and actively monitored by the media.

It must be remembered that these are not one-off, feel-good soft stories but hard political and economic measures of significant importance in a state torn by strife for over two decades. A Kashmiri Pandit woman winning a panchayat election or a temple being reopened in Srinagar is a heart-warming tale but has limited political significance beyond that, however hard one might try to hype the Kashmiriyat tag attached to it.

Then there is this edit in The Tribune newspaper which says that tourists are flocking to the Kashmir valley this summer. For all one knows, this could be based on anecdotal evidence of the editor or her friends because there is no factual evidence to back up the statement. Although one would like to believe the assertion that no hotel reservations are available for tourists in Kashmir, hard data would have helped this view from being dismissed by the naysayers as government propaganda.

Perhaps a portion of the blame for this media apathy also goes to the J&K state government. Its official website is “under construction” and the state Press Information Bureau, if such an entity exists, has no presence on the internet, leave alone social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The onus of communicating the state government’s message directly to the people is thus left solely to the personal twitter account of the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah. By all accounts, he has been fairly successful so far by leveraging the fundament of today’s media environment — engagement. But this is not going to be easy, as a section of the media has already used Mr Abdullah’s twitter presence to make petty personal attacks against him.

When James Callaghan said that “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on”, it was an age with no internet (and no breaking-news television). In today’s times, every government needs to have mechanisms to proactively put the truth out before the lie has even started putting its pants on. This needs a robust, agile and adaptive strategic communication framework in place, which is both reliable and credible, and engages with the target audience. Engagement through dialogic communication is now at least as important, if not more, as information-sending activities in the traditional media environment using monologist communication practices.

Communications transcend borders. In case of a conflict-torn state like Jammu and Kashmir which attracts a lot of international attention, the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more one can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by news informers that will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place. Putting a strategic communication framework in place will allow the government to leverage the media’s power to tell people what to think about, if not what to think.

It is about winning the battle of the narrative. The state must recognise that perception is as important to its successes as the actual events. The challenge is upon the government, particularly the J&K government, to defy and overturn the old adage that good news is no news. Especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Toon from here.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.