Thursday, October 29, 2009

Contrasting role of media in China and India

Over the past few months, there has been a lot items in the media, both in China and India, looking at various implications, and analysing the different possible scenarios in the relationship between the two. While public diplomacy is welcome, yet one has to note the different circumstances in which the media operates in the two countries. In India, the media is by and large free to comment any way they deem fit, consequently, there are newspapers which favour strong relationship with China. On the other hand, there are others who are very apprehensive about the impact of a more powerful China. Some publications may endorse the Indian government's approach to China, while others might urge the government to take a different course. There are those who would like greater restraint on the Tibetans in India, while there are others who call for stronger support for the Tibetans.

However, in China, the media is much more controlled, particularly when the issue is sensitive, or if it could be seen as criticism of official policy. As a result, there are always efforts to try and read between the lines on any major policy item that appears in major Chinese media. The belief being that nothing really significant would get published in the official Chinese channels, without official endorsement.

Two recent reports in Chinese media illustrate this point. A commentary in People's Daily on Oct 14, 2009, was titled "Indian hegemony continues to harm relations with neighbours".
Dating back to the era of British India, the country covered a vast territory including present-day India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh as well as Nepal. India took it for granted that it could continue to rule the large area when Britain ended its colonialism in South Asia. A previous victim of colonialism and hegemony started to dream about developing its own hegemony. Obsessed with such mentality, India turned a blind eye to the concessions China had repeatedly made over the disputed border issues, and refused to drop the pretentious airs when dealing with neighbors like Pakistan... ... ...

To everyone's disappointment, India pursued a foreign policy of "befriend the far and attack the near". It engaged in the war separately with China and Pakistan and the resentment still simmers. If India really wants to be a superpower, such a policy is shortsighted and immature... ... ...

In another recent item, Xinhua interviews one of the senior editors of a major Indian newspaper on the issue of Tibet. The editor of The Hindu, N Ram is quoted in the report "Indian journalist tells Tibet's reality, slaps separatists' lies" on 23 Oct 2009, as
Speaking at the forum, Ram corrected distorted lens made by the propaganda of the so-called "Tibetan government-in-exile" in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama and some Western media.

"A notable feature of recent Western media coverage of Tibet is the way journalism feeds off the disinformation campaign unleashed by the Dalai Lama's headquarters and the votaries of Tibetan 'independence,' without any attempt at independent reporting," said the senior Indian journalist, who paid three trips to Tibet.

The West demanded China "initiate" a "sincere" dialogue with the Dalai Lama to find a "just" and "sustainable" political solution in Tibet, he said.

"But this is precisely what China has done for three decades," he added.

These reports attracted quite a bit of attention among Indian analysts, not just because of their content, but because where they were published and when, given the nature of media in China. Being seen as a handmaiden of Chinese state, such reports are, on the one hand, dissected for its significance as official Chinese policy, and on the other hand discounted for being part of Chinese propaganda. Such an approach to media, not only undermines its credibility, but also devalues public diplomacy.

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