Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 22:31 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 22:31 | SYDNEY

India media should look abroad


Rory Medcalf


12 June 2009 17:02

The controversy over the safety of Indian students in Australia continues, despite the serious efforts of both governments to bring some sensible perspective to the situation. The good news is that some in the Indian media are beginning to get the hint – delivered this week by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – that nobody is helped by sensationalised, ill-informed and prejudiced reporting.

The bad news is that much of the Indian media continues to choose to assume that absolutely any robbery or act of violence against a person of Indian origin in Australia is automatically part of some racist crime wave. This sells papers, keeps the story boiling, and requires a minimum of research.

There is a bigger meaning to this episode. The Indian media in recent years has become an extraordinary success story of capitalism, democracy and free expression. 

As Indian levels of income, literacy, access to technology and exposure to a globalising world continue to grow, there has followed a blossoming of the largest, most vibrant mass media in history. In terms of its social, political and commercial impact, it has the potential to put the Western world’s 19th century newspaper and 20th century television revolutions in the shade. And it contains a great diversity of views, including plenty of the self-criticism that is only possible in a liberal society.

But there is an ugly downside. When its blood is up, the Indian media pack can be impossible to control, hungering at least as much for drama and half-truths as for facts. For effective Indian foreign policy, this makes the media more a liability than a soft power asset. And this problem is only going to get worse as New Delhi’s diplomatic ambitions grow.

Of course, I am not suggesting that democratic India should somehow seek to muzzle its press. Instead, one way the Government in New Delhi could seek more informed and accurate reporting would be to encourage Indian media organisations to set up offices in more countries. The world’s largest mass media has exceptionally few reporters based in other countries. So far not a single Indian newspaper, wire service or television channel has bothered to put a permanent correspondent in Australia, something quite a few Chinese and Japanese media organisations did long ago.

Photo by Flickr user mrfink, used under a Creative Commons license.