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When Indian Media Covers International Relations...
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Jan , 2017

Analysing international relations, issues related to security, strategy, defence and geo-politics is not a child’s play that anyone can do. One needs a solid understanding of international relations and its theories in order to try and explain stuff that happens globally. Theories are important because they are not meant to correspond to reality, instead they are meant to explain reality. To put it simply, theories have an ‘explanatory power’. Without this understanding, all the exercise of trying to explain the major events of international system is just futile.

…media manages to ‘mould’ the public opinion in the way they want it to be by showing ‘half-baked truths’, ‘exaggerating instead of reporting facts’…

Sadly, a majority of Indian media houses are just doing that. In the garb of trying to portray themselves as international relations expert, they get away successfully by often ‘misguiding’ and ‘befooling’ a large naïve audience about the peculiarities of major international events such as the Syrian Civil War, Rise of ISIS, Indo-Pak relations etc. In case of Indo-Pak relations, ‘news anchors’ and ‘reporters’ considers themselves as masters of the subject.

I mention the word ‘naïve’ for a majority of audiences because international relations as an academic discipline has not evolved deeply in India which is evident with the fact that only few universities have courses on the subject and even fewer can claim to provide a quality education in that. Because of this, a very few people possess the ‘knowhow’ of how to analyse a major international event.

In this situation, media manages to ‘mould’ the public opinion in the way they want it to be by showing ‘half-baked truths’, ‘exaggerating instead of reporting facts’ and trying to be extremely opinionated on something where they clearly lack the requisite academic domain knowledge. Explaining and analysing international relations is not a ‘common-sense’ stuff because it often leads to pure generalizations, often turning the sensitive issues to propaganda, which one can routinely see these days on Indian news channels.

Most of the journalists in India, especially those in Electronic Media and vernacular Print media, have very little background and foundational knowledge of issues like security, defence, armies, war, civil wars etc…

Journalists can’t and shouldn’t try to be academicians because when they try doing that, they are not doing justice to their own profession and their large audience. They shouldn’t try to be what they are not. Most of the journalists in India, especially those in Electronic Media and vernacular Print media, have very little background and foundational knowledge of issues like security, defence, armies, war, civil wars etc but most of them consider themselves as ‘all-rounders’ who can not only cover but have strong opinions.

Who cares about the experts, about the academicians, about the professors who have spent years in developing an expertize of the subject, they all can be afforded to be neglected because firstly, they are an extremely miniscule minority and secondly, it is believed that even smaller minority reads their academic writings, research papers and books. This belief can’t be totally neglected because academicians don’t have both access and reach to mass audiences in India. Today, only a select few academicians of International Relations in India write in big newspapers or are invited for discussions by news channels, those who are invited do not get a chance to speak because of the way discussions are conducted.

One often notices that while dealing with critical issues of international relations, media channels often call ‘experts’ to discuss an issue. Among these experts, one can find political commentators, spokespersons of political parties, retired armed forces officers and retired diplomats. Even then if there is a space left after that, an academician is called upon to speak. This is the currently the sad state of affairs in Indian media, where ‘opinions’ are given more importance than ‘facts’, the saddest part being the importance being given to the ‘opinions’ of news anchors who possess the least knowledge of the subject.

In the western world both ‘international relations’ and ‘journalism’ have evolved as a major academic discipline while in India both the subjects are in its nascent stage in terms of its academic growth.

If one analyses closely and try to go deeper down to the crux of this problem, one would find that understanding of theories is considered a ‘futile exercise’ by many. Futile, because it truly needs deeper analysis and efforts on the part of journalists, who are just well-off by being ignorant about theoretical knowledge. They claim to have ‘practical knowledge’ of the subject on which they develop their opinions.

This can be done in covering day to day daily news but it can’t be done while covering critical subjects areas of international relations. It is high time, that everyone needs to understand that international relation is a highly specialized subject which demands ‘specialized knowledge’. The ‘inverted pyramid style’ taught to journalism students for covering news consisting of 5W’s and 1H (It means Who, When, What, Why, Where and How) can’t be applied while covering international issues. At least, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ should be left for subject experts to explain.

One must understand that talk shows, news stories, panel discussions and even opinion pieces in newspapers can’t be a substitute for a proper academic understanding of the subject. One often compares the way international relations is covered by western media with the way it is covered in India and anyone can tell that there is a world of difference between them. Firstly, in the western world both ‘international relations’ and ‘journalism’ have evolved as a major academic discipline while in India both the subjects are in its nascent stage in terms of its academic growth.

India needs quality ‘institutions’ which can supply candidates with a better knowledge of global issues not only to the media houses as journalists…

Secondly, the nature and character of audience consuming news in terms of their awareness and understanding of global issues is more nuanced than Indian audience which gives way to shoddy journalism by many Indian media houses while covering international issues as they know they won’t be caught on a ‘wrong-footing’ by the audience at large.

All these ‘wrongs’ can be minimized if efforts are taken by the government in building many good institutions where quality education of international relations and global politics is imparted. India needs more institutions like that if it wants to become a ‘rising power’ in the international system. India needs quality ‘institutions’ which can supply candidates with a better knowledge of global issues not only to the media houses as journalists but as ‘world class academicians’ who can counter the superficial narrative of the media and provide quality knowledge to the next generation of students.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Martand Jha

Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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One thought on “When Indian Media Covers International Relations…

  1. Like they say Ones religion is somebody else’s mythology. Same way One’s opinion can be Propoganda in someone else’s point of view. And Indian common public do not care about so called “Experts” because they know that these “Experts” often times sponsored or brainwashed mouthpieces of foreign entities who are not serving country’s interests.

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