Sunday, September 20, 2009

Breaking news: Indian channels battle the Chinese dragon

Apart from any geopolitical factors, there are two plausible explanations for the current focus on China India border, particularly on a few TV news channels in India. We are being daily fed with reports of Chinese incursions, China’s aggressive postures, China’s military build up, China paining rocks red, and then the media is blowing hot and cold over whether the Indian military is capable or ill prepared to deal with any situation that may arise. Indian government has repeated that there is nothing unusual happening on the border. Indian military has said there has been nothing unusual on the border. But of course the media knows better.

I know very little about the Chinese response to the war being waged in Indian drawing rooms. One report in Indian papers quoted Chinese officials urging Indian media to show restraint. Of course no can restrain the free Indian media, particularly when what is at stake is TRP. Particularly when many are suffering from an withdrawal symptom in a phase when there is no T20 cricket to keep the TV channels focused on the records made, the records missed, and records that might be made, both on and off the field.

Here are my two cent worth contribution on why China India border is dominating some TV news channels.

One, China is still relatively unknown to most Indians, quite unlike our other neighbours, and that makes it an easy target. For instance, Pakistan and its many non-state actors are a known devil, so whatever price they make us pay every time we are at the receiving end of their firework, we soldier on. There is very little personal animosity between ordinary people on both side of the Indo-Pak border. On the other hand, historically and socially, China has always been on the periphery of awareness for most Indians, and the Himalayan range only reinforced that perception. Shekhar Gupta writes in his weekly column in Indian Express, that the defeat of the Indian army in the 1962 war at the hands of the Chinese in the Indian north-east may have scarred the Indian psyche for generations. So today, the little known China, coupled with the trauma of 1962 are casting a shadow on the reality of Sino-India relationship in 2009.

Secondly, like the Bollywood films which seem forever eager to try and capitalize on any prevailing popular perceptions, there are some in the Indian media who think they now have an opportunity to try and leverage the Chinese dragon. In an economic slowdown, the competition among news channels for higher TRPs have become hot, and what better than a T20 thriller between China and India. The channels had a field day predicting a close election, when it was anything but that. Then it was the Swine flu, with running commentary on deaths triggering a panic. Then the monsoon or its failure, and the media descended like vultures at the prospect of picking at the worst drought in a century. And now it is time for a China India to face off, a battle has been joined with hardly anyone from the media actually visiting the border. Wait for the next media sponsored breaking news event. Far from being the messenger, the television channels seem to want to create news! Welcome to the media war in the information age.

Nevertheless, a war of words on TV channels is far more tolerable than any exchange of artillery between the armies.


  1. Excellent post!

    With all due respect to the Indian Media and the self-proclaimed strategic experts who are airing their opinion, I would like to add my two cents as well.....

    There is an increasing propensity to use panelists to discuss issues rather than report on issues. What we have are panel discussions with military experts, former bureaucrats and the occasional member of the Cuffe Parade Brigade thrown in. There is very little factual reporting (e.g. has anybody tried to run an interview out of Beijing?)

    It would be very interesting to see what is happening in the commercial defence sector. Are defence contractors chasing deals in New Delhi, bringing in more representatives etc. Will this whole exercise in fear-mongering force India to procure more Arms and Weapons to protect borders.

    The media is dissecting the phallic size of India and China's arsenal. My worry is that it is going to force expenditure in an area that is not a unanimous priority (like poverty alleviation or universal education). Any build-up of arms is only going to further the tension. I am beginning to wonder who the Media is playing for?


  2. Thanks Anand.
    I don't know if we should grant such strategic foresight to the arms merchants.

    But there is clearly no foresight among media persons who are harping on the Chinese incursions. One, much of the China India border is disputed by one side or the other. Which is why we have the Line of Actual Control. But by that definition, there can hardly be any incursion in to other side, because there is no mutually recognised border in the first place.
    On the other hand, if we are to accept the LAC as the defacto border, then it would basically mean that we surrender claims on the western sector in Aksai Chin, and China give up their claim in the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh.
    A lot of scholars think that it is precisely this kind of across the board settlement which is desirable, possible and doable. But it is the perpetual sector by sector, section by section, negotiation between China and India, that has held up settlement of border dispute for all these years.

  3. Hey i know very little about the actual situation but i would like to have a say..
    first the indian mindset about the chinese is a very pessimistic one.always doubting about where the dragon stands,about how trustworthy can it be..true nothing can be said about the chinese especially after its official mouth piece claiming articles about war against india and dividing it into 30 odd pieces.then about its recent gifting of a warship to our archenemies the pakistan.then the recent hike in the skirmishes and incursions and the red paintings.And then there is stuff like its good relationship with come on everyone including a thumb sucking toddler knows that pak is the epicenter for the fundamentalists.taking that into consideation their healthy relationship would worry anyone against the war on terror.i believe the chinese are calm because right now they are not being affected by terrorists.wait for 2 decades , u never know the jihadis might be against the would actually be interesting to see the chinese stance then..
    and regarding the media hype, nothing can be said as there should be some real truth apart from the media BS for the indian govt to actually take up the issue and for the "experts" to actually meet.(heard it includes the iaf army naval chiefs along with the chinese strategic affairs experts....)
    actually the media hype triggering a war and leading to defence purchases looks like a far fetched shot but still your thought process is commendable..the media channel which first reported this chinese issues was next step is to check out if they have any interests in the defence companmnies..
    PS (am an amateur at writing so dont laugh)

  4. Barun -

    Maybe my conspiracy theory on defense contractors actually has some truth. Washington Post seems to figured out some moves that the contractors are making -

  5. Hello Anand,

    Chief Minister of West Bengal has also echoed similar sentiments! I would not be surprised if the military industrial complex, in India, US and elsewhere, now try to leverage their positions on the grounds of current Sino-India tensions.

    But I would find it difficult to believe that the military industrial complex conspired to trigger the tensions in the first place. We would need more evidence to draw that conclusion.

  6. Just came to mind the two films in the 1990s that sought to portray the use and abuse of media to trigger political crisis.

    James Bond in "Tomorrow never dies" (1997) fights a media moghul who is seeking to sparking WW III, between the West and China.

    Dustin Hoffman in "Wag the Dog" (1997) plays the Hollywood producer who stage manages a war propaganda to help political ambition of a president.

  7. Hi Barun -
    Sorry to pick up on my conspiracy theory in this older thread.
    Today's The Hindu - on their Edit page - carries an advert - LOCKHEEDMARTIN and the department of Science and Technology are cohosting a conference on "Innovation".
    Platonic interests in innovation? Definetly not.

  8. After all, necessity is the mother of innovation! The question is what is the cause, and what is the effect?