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Friday Apr 21, 2017

South Asian media should avoid war rhetoric: Maj Gen (retd) Athar Abbas

South Asian media should avoid war rhetoric: Maj Gen (retd) Athar Abbas

BRUSSELS: Pakistan's Ambassador to Ukraine, Major General (retd) Athar Abbas in a lecture on the issue of media and conflict resolution stressed on South Asian and international media to fulfil its responsibility as a peace-builder and avoid war rhetoric.

Speaking at the conference held at the Diplomatic Media Centre in Kiev, he said that media should draw the world’s attention towards the brewing conflict in South Asia between two nuclear powers. "Media should create pressure for conflict resolution while projecting benefits of peace for the entire South Asia," he said.

The conference was attended by a good number of junior diplomat trainees, students, academics, human rights activists, security experts and journalists, who appreciated his eloquence and deep understanding of media and conflict resolution.   

The former Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief said that Pakistan's nuclear capability had prevented a war between India and Pakistan while criticising the media for flaring the conflict."Even before an attack ends, a war of words erupts on television channels and social media, which is carried over to print media and online publications as well."

He was of the view that professional and responsible journalism was itself a conflict resolution effort if it projects truthful, accurate and balanced reports.  

“The whole concept of truth had come under challenge," Gen (retd) Abbas lamented.

Explaining Pakistan's fight against the Taliban, he praised the media especially community radios for playing a significant role in countering extremist propaganda. The community radio exposed terrorist networks and nullified their ideological outreach by engaging religious scholars to counter Talibanisation. The radio successfully won the hearts and minds of the people of Swat and isolated the terrorists, he said. It also played a positive role in keeping the spirits alive of the remaining families of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the conflict zone.  

Explaining the modus operandi of the terrorists, he said they were experts in playing with half-truths cleverly woven into facts, which create confusion and invoke knee-jerk reactions in the masses. If this kind of propaganda is not countered immediately and effectively, it spreads like wildfire on the social media, he said.

He said that communication and IT revolution was an unmitigated power with multi-billion dollar industry having its own pulls, pushes, actors and agendas. He furthered his point by saying that the power of media lied in its ability to create perceptions and then transform these perceptions into convictions. Media can also be dangerous as it has the power to deceive and market anything with a spin and bias, he added.

Gen (retd) Abbas commenting on the dangers of social media spreading fake news said: "Social media works like weapons for any manipulator or demagogue."

He also said that media could play a role of arbitrator or interlocutor. “Media should respect confidentiality of negotiating process because its role is to project truth and peace rather than following agendas."

Concluding his lecture, he said the media has the responsibility to draw attention to conflicts worldwide and their possible effects on the masses and human development. Media can act as the interpreter of the parties who lack other means of communications and can also educate them about each other's interests, needs, core values and sufferings.


Edited by Sindhu Abassi

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