Last week there was a story filed from Islamabad on trade between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control. Some readers have taken objection to the use of the terms ‘Indian occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ while quoting the Pakistan’s foreign affairs spokesperson. Newspapers have inherent difficulties in describing contested territories while adhering to the fundamental rules of reporting. In this case, the terms were not an invention of the reporter and the story was a faithful report of the Pakistani side of the story. The reporter has not endorsed it but merely reported a statement.
In the last two decades there had been constant interactions between journalists from India and Pakistan about fair coverage of Kashmir which has been trapped in the nationalistic narratives of the two neighbours. In 2005, when some of the influential editors of Indian and Pakistani media met at Istanbul one of the issues they discussed was what the media can do to lower the cross-border tensions and change the prevailing attitude of confrontation to reconciliation. They came up with a suggestion to use terms that capture the reality rather than the respective countries’ stated positions. Accordingly, for a very short period, many media outlets, both in India and in Pakistan, used ‘India Administered Kashmir’ instead of ‘India Occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Pakistan Administered Kashmir’ instead of ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’. But soon the nationalist narratives gained precedence over the terminological exactitude.
In this context, I also realise my own transition from a journalist to an ombudsman. The crucial difference between a journalist and an ombudsman is the source, the beginning point, from which their respective writings flow. While the journalists report on events and developments, ombudsmen write about the quality of journalistic writings, and whether they adhere to the prescribed standards and whether they stand up to the meticulous scrutiny of informed readers. The journalistic skills evolved over a period of three centuries and the best practices have now been well documented and have become curriculum in various journalism schools across the world. But, the literature about ombudsmanship is not so rich. We, about hundred odd ombudsmen, learn from each other’s experience to hone our skills.
One of the interesting voices I follow is Craig Silverman, an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification. The Poynter Institute hosts his blog where he is an adjunct faculty.
Let me discuss two postings in the Regret the Error blog that may have some resonance with the use of right terms to describe Kashmir on two sides of the Line of Control. The postings are about corrections carried that two important publications in the United States recently about events happened more than a century ago. I consider them significant because the act of correction is crucial to any newspaper that wants to be a media institution of record.
First, a correction carried out on November 14, 2013 by a U.S. paper, The Patriot-News. On the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address, The Patriot-News issued a retraction of its editorial of 1863. The paper was then called, the Patriot & Union, and it ridiculed the address. Its editorial then read: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” And the retraction of last November was: “In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.”
Second, is a rectification by The New York Times. According to Regret the Error: “Sometimes it takes a long time to get it right. And sometimes when you are trying to fix one mistake, you find others. The New York Times was researching a correction on a column about the original design for the Yankees’ logo when the paper discovered that 136 years ago, the newspaper misspelled the name of a policeman who has been shot in the head by a burglar.” Then it goes ahead by reproducing the correction in The New York Times that read: “This just in: we made a mistake – 136 years ago. It was in a Jan. 9, 1877 article about a police officer shot by a saloon burglar. The Times called him Officer McDonnell. His name was McDowell. The error came to light when we researched a correction to a recent article about the history of the New York Yankees logo. The record is now set straight.”
Will the media houses of India and Pakistan issue a retraction when the acrimony of the past finally gives way for a truly peaceful coexistence between the two countries about the terminological inexactitude of their descriptions of Kashmir?