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India: Television Media Blind to World Affairs

by Anuradha Chenoy, 22 August 2013

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New Indian Express, August 21st, 2013

An ordinary viewer of the electronic media, who is not inclined to read the print media in some detail, is likely to get a completely skewed version of Indian foreign policy and even risk semi literacy of world affairs. The reason is not difficult to fathom. Most Indian TV News Channels are obsessed primarily with three issues: India’s disputes with Pakistan, conflict and competition with China, and strategic relations with the USA. An exception is made when some huge humanitarian disaster which is briefly mentioned in the news, or if some Indian is wronged by a foreign government an emotional response follows. So if you are primarily a TV watcher- and luckily most newspaper readers are not, your knowledge of both Indian foreign policy and international politics will end there.

Let us take the recent examples of major international events that are being discussed by leaders, analysts and people world over, like the civil conflict in Syria, the military coup and the killing of Islamic followers of deposed President Morsey in Egypt; the latest on the Palestine question, or what happened after the Arab spring etc. There has hardly been any discussion or debate on the Indian TV channels. Or if a major presidential election happened in an African country; or the South African Government fired on mine workers last year, you will never know, if you watch most TV channels. Indian electronic media go on with the same commentators on the latest scam or takes up any issue of the day and make it the top headline news and debate. This is not to make the argument that domestic news is not important but surely if a channel is in the business of information, they should be sensitive to international news as well.

But there is something even more dangerous that many TV channels have been doing here. That is to raise the pitch of war rhetoric and seek to mobilize public opinion in favour of aggressive confrontation. To cite just a recent example, was the killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistani Army and irregulars. Such incidents are vile, and need to be reported and a reasoned debate follow- that analyzes Government position, deconstructs what the opposition has to say; bring out historical facts, analyze documents and so on. Many editorials and articles in the print media did this kind of reasoned analyses.

The electronic media however, followed the furor that was raised in the Parliament. No MP on that day raised deeper historical questions that in fact The Indian Express reported on August 7th that just a few days before this incident Indian soldiers had captured four Pakistani infiltrators near the border. No MP or TV channel asked that earlier classified reports on such ceasefire violations be made public and discussed. The electronic media in India, raised war rhetoric at a high pitch. Commentators generally supported strong retaliatory action screamed at those who advocated ’soft’ response. Anchors urged the need for quick retaliation to save the ’honour’ and ’pride’ of every Indian. Z News was scripted as: “Pakistan ko do karara jawab” (Give Pakistan a spicy response). Some held TV polls that claimed that 99% of viewers who had given responses supported retaliation. Channel ‘Times Now’ titled its nightly debate as: “Pakistan Butchers/We cowards”. India TV’s ticker ran: “Pakistan Rulata Rahega –Hum Rote Rahenge?” (Pakistan will continue to make us cry and we will keep crying). So much of the electronic media tried to put pressure on Indian foreign policy to take a militarist step. Sadly, the electronic media showed itself to be quite the same as the hard-line Pakistani electronic media. The media curtailed government efforts to step aside from nationalist rhetoric and take negotiated positions.

An even deeper question is, if the electronic media is really interested in issues of Pakistan, China, or South Asian neighbors, why do they not run deeper analytical stories after they have raised such a pitch? For example, China has just brought out a foreign policy document. Many China specialists in India are examining this document that advocates major changes in the China-US relations. Should not the electronic media inform people on the consequences of such shift? And if they are interested in influencing or popularizing foreign policy should they not do deeper stories on the state of the Pakistani economy? Or what is happening in the transition to post- US Afghanistan?

The truth is that the electronic media has got tied to the idea of focusing only on the nightly debate. Its cheaper to get the same set of pro- or anti government and 2-3 independent analysts and have them shout at each other. It is far more difficult and expensive to do analytical features that give people clear information from the ground. So all that most channels are interested in is a provocative sound bite.

The media, especially the TV channels have the opportunity to provide an alternate view of World politics from the Global South. They can if they so wanted, give a picture to the world that differs from BBC, CNN or any other Western channel. But the electronic media has missed that opportunity. Never do they report as to what is happening in other Asian, Latin American, African, Central Asian and even West Asian countries internally. In fact, whenever there is any international event of any importance, all analysts, policy makers and leaders switch on the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. Now even Russia News is a English channel that is taken very seriously. So why should Indian foreign policy makers and thinkers take them seriously?

India is known to be an inward looking country, where there is more concern over domestic issues than there is over international affairs. However, at the same time the Indian elite and middle class want India to be a great power. Can they do so without a clear analysis of the international system? And even when they make this analysis, one thing is for sure, they can rely on Indian newspapers, but if they rely for any information from Indian TV channels they are sure to take lethally wrong steps. Anuradha Chenoys article on Media and world affairs. {JPEG}

P.S.

The above article from New Indian Express is reproduced here in public interest and is for educational and non commercial use.