Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Role of media in impacting India’s foreign relationships


These days when I talk to my friends in Pakistan, China, Australia and elsewhere one common theme I see is their complaints on our media. As Internet has brought content around the world to anybody’s home PC, our media is gaining more attention and has become extremely notorious abroad. This attention is increasingly straining our relationships, as the recent Australian incidents have shown. Australians complain about the hysteric reporting of the crimes; Pakistanis, Banglas & Nepalese complain of the “arrogance” when it comes to media description of India’s neighbors; Chinese complain about jingoism and over-extended comparison with their juggernaut economy, and the Americans complain the overstressing the importance of Indian IT players and the ever present talk of the next “superpower”. English are more generous but they too are irked by the neo-Indian attitude.

With my overseas friends, I would often defend that given India’s democracy media is bound to have full freedom in expressing their thoughts. But, I’m myself not satisfied with the reply. USA and UK are also great democracies and I subscribe to UK’s Economist, Financial Times and Guardian and America’s Wall Street Journal, TIME and US News. However I don’t see the journalists there on a sensational spree. They take far less liberties when talking about other nations than when talking about their own. And when they criticize they try to be more sensitive. America’s journalists might slam Federal Reserve, White House or other authorities in strong language, but they talk respectfully about India and other countries. We should extend the similar respect when reporting about other countries.

Sensational reporting of the Australian attacks is the perfect example of what is wrong with our media. Our journalists fail to comprehend that assaults and other crimes are pretty common in the West and not always due to racism. When I lived in Baltimore, US I used to frequently see violent crimes in our city in vastly greater proportion than in major Indian cities. You can get mugged or even killed right in sight of Capitol Hill in DC whether you are white, black, brown or yellow. And Australia’s per-capita assault rate is 20 times that of India (UN crime stats 2007) and people in every demographic become victims.

Parts of Melbourne &  Sydney are pretty notorious for crime and given our population size in Australia (250,000) statistically it is expected that some of our guys could be in that victim list. Let us be aware of the statistics and be more sensitive towards the crime there. Nobody wants to be called a racist for no fault of theirs and by continuing to call them as racist would invite more ire & attack on our citizens in the future. Already Indo-Australia relationships are looking at an abyss, thanks to the media.

With respect to Indo-Pakistani affairs, I have often found Dawn to be a fairer observer than Indian newspapers. Our media should be less biased and patriotism should not color its perception of truth. Our journalists should be open to tell Indian people that India was not so innocent in Indo-China war, nor was our wars with Pakistan outright victories. Our soldiers fought bravely with conviction, but so did our opponents. We complain about vicious tactics of our enemies, but when you look impartially so do some our actions.

Part of our problem is that our journalists in top newspapers are significantly younger & inexperienced compared to their counterparts in the US & UK. They are given to more rage than reason. This makes it absolutely important for the media houses to train them on “International sensitivity” and encourage them to temper their language while firmly pushing their viewpoint. Media persons should be more rational than emotional, and facts & statistics should be their fundamental friend and not assumptions and accusations.

Let media be a bridge to build relationships with other societies. Let it not be an impediment to our society’s relationships with others. Let it not damage the hardwork done by our diplomats and non-residents. We fight so hard to build friendships with other nations - please don’t derail all of them with improper reporting.


sy said...

When you are in India you will keep thinking other countries like UK and US are "watching" us and everybody is noticing what Indian media has to say. Fact is no one cares of Indian media or for that matter India. While being in India it's very tempting to think that India is the center of the world. I read local US news papers and news channel every day. I haven't seen any mention of India or what you are talking about for months.

Atma Nayar said...

we are too consumed by what the world thinks about us. you do not see this morbid obsession elsewhere; let's forget about the rest and feel free to see ourselves the way we want

Balaji said...

I don't which local papers you are talking about, but if it is US regional newspapers, they are a dying breed and they are not the benchmark for anything. For them the headline news will be something like renaming of a local puppy.

In Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and Business Week, there used to be frequent mention of happenings and weird things in India.

We live in the world and controversial media writings can stir things around the world (remember the Mohammad cartoons). We are not frogs in a well.

Balaji said...

AR Rahman echoed on similar thoughts yesterday:

"He says media in both countries have a propensity to incite anger between the two cultures but also hold the key to helping to stop the problem."