“There obviously negative experiences in every field for a journalist, but those are limited to uncooperative officers and difficulty in getting information for stories. Defence reporting is slightly more entitled to assert media-unfriendliness, being a beat directly connected to national security. It therefore comes down to the journalist’s knowledge of the subject and reach in its fraternity to pick up 'stories',” says the Parth Satam, Principal Correspondent, Fauji India Magazine about routine challenges faced by those covering defence in the nation.
When asked about domain awareness of the reporters assigned to defence beat at large, the seasoned journalist responded saying, “Journalists covering defence are by and large well acquainted with strategic, military concepts for defence officers to be comfortable enough to interact with them. This is has reflected in the overall stellar and reliable reportage on the ongoing Ladakh standoff, many reporters whose work now serves as a ready reference material for education on the matter. However, their knowledge of defence issues is merely limited to the tactical/strategic and the equipment domains of defence affairs, confined to 'what gun hits the hardest or jet flies the highest' to Indian Army, Peoples Liberation Army posturing in Ladakh.”
He continued, “The former in fact in fact serves as the benchmark for the quality of a defence reporter, when he/she breaks a scoop on a weapons procurement project or a massive tactical action on the border. The understandable childhood obsession with guns and bombs does not evolve to encompass the politics, economy, political economy, eco-political situation, socio-economy, history, sociology, and the philosophy that shapes a nation (and nations) that leads to war, reducing defence reporting to mere 'video game journalism'. The Clausewitzian dictum of ‘war being politics by other means’ be damned.”
Speaking about the reportage on the recent Sino-Indo border skirmishes, he said, “Ironically, it is the Ladakh standoff again that has borne this phenomenon where journalists covering defence - while undoubtedly producing the most accurate and educative ground reports of the situation. When it comes to China, the Indian defence journalists' zilch knowledge on foreign policy and history that motivates the country's actions is borne when they regurgitate either hand-me-down opinions or reactionary lines by Western think tanks.”
“Most are not even aware of Chinese history or China's own wars that might hold clues on its actions towards India, or the 'How will China fight? What is China's military doctrine?' enigmas everyone is clamouring to solve,” stressed Parth. An eye-opener was when he stated that in his journalistic tenure, he has not met a single journalist who knows what really unfolded during the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
Satam further explained, “Knowledge of the political conditions (both domestic and foreign) that led to this war is wishful thinking. They proudly throw around a quote or two from Chanakya but are not even aware of Chinese history or philosophers that influence Chinese society to this day, which eventually influences their foreign policy. Forget Vietnam or Korea, most defence journalists and defence officers are not even aware of current conflicts, the Syrian and the Yemen wars cases in point.
“The former has been the world's longest running civil war that has seen the participation of the most brutal and hellish terror group like the ISIS (which many Indians joined, making Syria an Indian concern) and participation of two Great Powers US and Russia (both of whom are our allies). They do not even know the participants in the war, let alone Basher al Assad and the Civil War that triggered the conflict. Yemen meanwhile has been described as the most devastating humanitarian crisis in 40 years with lakhs of people having been killed owing to the ensuing famine and displacement,” he said shedding some more light on the nuances of one of the world’s longest running conflicts.
Speaking about the need for reporters to continuously educate themselves on allied subjects, Satam opined, “Whether one likes it or not, as students of war, one ‘has to’ study political theory and philosophy (and by extension economics) that leads to human conflict (which is war). I say this for Nietzsche and Hitler that made Nazi Germany as much as I would say it for Hegel, Kant, Marx, Lenin and Mao that shaped Russia and China.”
When asked about politicisation of the security apparatus and media pliability, he said, “The security establishment off late has been found to have been serving the political dispensation's needs in the nationalist turn our polity has taken and obviously there has definitely been lack of cooperation with journalists and censorship of news to filter negative reportage. This has been observed in all areas where the government was observed to have performed poorly I.E economy, public health, crime and administration, beside national security.”
“Certain journalists in the country have made the government's job's easier by reporting either untrue stories or refusing to report accurately, becoming a larger part of the crackdown on dissent from civil society,” added Satam before signing off.
More about the interviewee
Parth Satam is a Principal Correspondent with Fauji India magazine. With his tenure in The Asian Age and Mid-Day, he has covered India's security and military establishment for a decade. He has bylines in The Wire, Firstpost, Asia Times, Frontier India among other notable publications. He maintains a keen interest in defence, aerospace and foreign affairs and can be reached on Email: [email protected]