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Are western journalists and correspondents biased towards India?

When India’s space agency ISRO launched a successful mission to Mars, prior to the 103satellitessent in the first week of February, the New York Times ran a demeaning cartoon, showing an Indian farmer with his cow, knocking at the doors of the Elite Space Club…

And this triggers an important question: 70 years after Independence, are western journalists and correspondents still biased against India, a country they are supposed to report honestlyabout, so that their readers, who are mostly ignorant, get enlightened?

Well, from a western correspondent himself, the answer is.. YES…

There are four reasons for that sad fact:

India is never in the news in the West, unless there is some major catastrophe, or huge elections. Thus, if you want to write and be published, you have to find alternate stories, thatoften border on the sensational, the marginal, or even the untruthful…

Your editor in New York, Paris or London, has often set ideas on India, even though most of the time he or she has never set foot here. You need to toe the line, otherwise you may not be published, which is tough if you are a freelance, that is paid per piece. Most western correspondents thus rein in. I had one guy like that in Paris, Charles Lambroschini, in, who believed that the RSS was the most dangerous outfit in India…

Three, or even five years, which is the usual period that foreign correspondents are posted (as well as diplomats) is not enough for understanding a country that is so vast, so diverse, so contradictory sometimes. In fact one needs to go beyond the appearances in India. Indeed, the western sense of the hygienic and the esthetical,is very different from India’s and the first contact of dirtiness, slums, or poverty, often scars the perception of many westerncorrespondents who then refused to go beyond that barrier.

Delhi, where everybody is posted, is physically so far from the rest of India, and so disconnected. The same ideas and clichés are heard in parties and embassies’ cocktails and repeated ad infinitum, till every foreign correspondent thinks they are the gospel truth: ‘secularism, minorities, Hindu fundamentalism, human rights in Kashmir, right wing saffron’ etc…

Is this why @CNN or @NYtimes, or the @Independent, haves been particularly nasty in the last few years against the @BJP4India and @narendramodi, even after he was democratically elected by 100 million Indians? It felt more like a biased witch-hunt than actual reporting. For instance very veryvery few western journalists cared to mention that the 2002 Gujarat riots were triggered by the attack by a Muslim crowd of the Sabarmati train, where 56 Hindus, 32 of them women and children, were burnt like animals.

But the pioneer of them all has got to be the @BBC, which has been the inspiration of much of the slant of the foreign journalists on India, which seems to stem from an unconscious sense of superiority (same is true of western Indologists). I remember when I used to cover Kashmir in the late 90’s how Mark Tully, then a beacon to all foreign correspondents& Indian journalists, used to say all the time that it was ‘untrue that Pakistan was sponsoring arming and sheltering Kashmiri militants’. Which everybody repeated (bar this writer).He even had a Kashmiri stringer,who was named Yussuf, I think, that informed the militants. When the army arrested himYussuf, Tully kicked such a ruckus that he had to be eventually released.

Speaking of stringers, the sad fact is that most of the Indian stringers of major western media outlets, such as @BBC, or @AP, or @CNN, toe the line, that is report what their masters want them to say. In fact they go sometimes even overboard, to paint a negative and clichéd image of their own country. No doubt the Nirbhaya rape was a horrible happening and the guilty should have beenpunishedin a harsher manner (and not released, like the so-called juvenile). But this was so much reported on, so much hyped, particularly by the @BBC, that every westerner thinks now that India is the land of rape. In fact when any western girl wants to travel to India now, she is warned, “careful – you might be raped”. Yet proportionately there are less rapes in India than in Sweden, which has the maximum number of rapes in the world, for instance and it is safer to walk at night in Delhi than in certain suburbs of Washington or Paris.

India should have a look at China, which gets a lot more respect from western journalists. Why? Because China does not take insults lying down. Paradoxically, western journalists have so much more liberty in India, where they can move freely. Whereas in China, they still need permission before goinganywhere and need to submit the subject of their reporting. They can be censored too, or their websites even blocked.

Sure, there is no conspiracy that I can see, and most western correspondents come to India with a sincere aspiration to report fairly and faithfully. But again, the first task of a foreign journalist, without being blind to India’s faults – and there are many, but not more than any other country in the world – should be to report truthfully and create some empathy amongst its readers or viewers for a country that is unique and endearing and whose ancient civilization, that viewed the world as One Family, has survived centuries of savage onslaught, including by the British, who are still trying to lecture India.

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