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How western media’s bias against India can be corrected

Shashi Shekhar Vempati writes: There is need for an Indian global media platform to address the superficial understanding of Indian democracy and the stereotypical perspective of the country's socio-cultural diversity

Little attention has been paid to an in-depth analysis of global media coverage of IndiaLittle attention has been paid to an in-depth analysis of global media coverage of India.

Servant of the People or Sluga Naroda is a Ukrainian television series starring its current president and then-actor, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The multi-season series in Ukrainian is available on Netflix. One episode from the first season features an encounter between the Ukrainian foreign minister and the Indian cultural attache. The episode is striking for both its superficial understanding of India and portrayal of Indian cultural stereotypes, which is quite typical of many international productions. This global phenomenon of superficial understanding of India needs a deeper analysis for it is not limited to the writers of Sluga Naroda but extends to global thought leaders and opinion makers, such as Francis Fukuyama, among others. Fukuyama’s recent remarks on liberal democracy and India betray a similar lack of understanding of India, a theme one consistently observes in the op-ed columns and editorial observations of western publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Most commentary and analysis in India about this phenomenon has painted much of the western media with a broad brush of editorial bias on account of the left-liberal leanings of journalists and editors. Little attention has been paid to an in-depth analysis of global media coverage of India that appeared in the 56th edition of The Communicator, the peer-reviewed Journal of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication published in October-December of 2021.

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The report, titled “An Analysis of Global Media Coverage of Events in India” by Amol Parth, undertook an in-depth review of more than 3,000 India-related articles carried by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time and The Guardian. Further sampling a subset of 500 articles, the analysis found a consistent pattern of emphasising political controversies in India with sensational headlines and keywords such as hate, fear, violence, riot, mob, Hindu and Kashmir. An interesting insight from the report was how the negative feedback loop from India-centric controversies had created a perverse incentive for Indian-origin journalists and writers to contribute superficially written articles on controversial subjects to global media outlets which tend to pay substantially more than their Indian media counterparts.

The report also examined the digital readership growth of these media outlets in India between 2019-2021 based on publicly available datasets to find a strong correlation between viewership spikes in India and controversial topics. For example, the report found that between March 2019 and 2021 while the NYT saw its readership decline globally by 8 per cent, the Indian readership rose by 22 per cent. Time, which carried controversial cover stories on India during this period, saw a rise in readership of 50 per cent in India even as globally it declined by 31 per cent according to the report. Most remarkable however was the BBC’s nearly five-fold growth in India over its global growth on the back of its highly provocative reportage on the riots in Delhi and Covid-19 deaths in India.

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The analysis highlights the importance of India as a growth market for global news outlets on account of its large English-speaking, digitally savvy audience. The global media is looking to India for its next wave of growth given the kind of digital investments the BBC and others have been making lately. Recent interviews by Semafor, a global digital news startup, with Indian media also underscore the size and value of this opportunity. India’s significance as a subject of global media interest can be expected to rise even further with India all set to assume the presidency of the G20 come December.

While WION TV has developed a commendable niche as a global media platform out of India, with shows such as Gravitas, and DD India has caught the attention of the global media with its coverage of the Ukraine evacuation and interviews of global leaders, India is far from establishing a strong global media voice that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the established players. With less than 18 months to go for the G20 summit in India, there is a short window of opportunity for a strong global media voice to emerge from India. Such a platform becomes all the more imperative to correct the superficial understanding of Indian democracy and the stereotypical perspective of the socio-cultural diversity of India within the global community of influencers and opinion makers.

The writer is former CEO, Prasar Bharti

First published on: 19-09-2022 at 16:09 IST
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