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Sanjaya Baru
Sanjaya Baru


A unipolar worldview

One of the consequences of our reliance on the English language in accessing news about the world is that we tend to look at the world the way the English-speaking west looks at the world. The Indian media, of all languages, contributes to this distortion by not investing in its own sources of news gathering. Of all the G20 countries, India has the fewest number of foreign correspondents and an overwhelming majority are stationed in English-speaking countries. Worse, most of them belong to an increasingly marginalised English language print media. Few Indian language media have invested in foreign correspondents.

This distortion in the formation of the Indian worldview shows itself up in many ways. For example, the obsession with what the western media says about India. Any negative reference to India in journals like The Economist, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and so on gets an exaggerated response from the media commentariat and the political class. Some at home get shirty and others hold these comments up as proof of the validity of their own views. Both groups are slaves of a colonial mindset.

Nobody in the west takes much note of what the Indian media says about the western media, but many at home offer prime time/front page attention to the views of western media about India. I should correct myself here. The reference ought not to be to ‘western’ media but to English-language western media. For, after all, how many in India pay any attention to non-English western media and to non-western media in general. If the English-language western media presents a warped view of India to the rest of the world, it is equally guilty of doing so with respect to other nations.

All this is old hat. Back in the 1970s this kind of thinking around the non-western world shaped the idea of a “new world information order” and helped create institutions like the Inter Press Service that pooled news from the developing world. Many of the initiatives of that time have either become far too partisan in their reporting or have just withered away due to lack of funds. The fact also is that several developing countries created their own global media networks and relied less on these initiatives.

China has been at the forefront of creating a global media network that not only brings news to Chinese viewers/readers gathered by Chinese eyes and ears but also transmits news worldwide from China through competent media professionals. India lags behind.

74-A-unipolar-worldview Illustration: Bhaskaran

What I am lamenting here is not so much the absence of a global Indian media presence as the resultant bias in Indian thinking about the world. There are two dominant strains in the Indian view of the world—one shaped by the English-speaking west and the other shaped by domestic anti-westernism. Both are legacies of India’s colonial past. Both have decreasing relevance to defining an Indian view of the emerging world. India needs an Indian view of the world shaped by the new realities of the world as well as new Indian realities. Both the world and India have changed and so have the nature of their relationship and the relevance of different nations to India and of India to different nations.

Two key factors are shaping this changing relationship. Economics and security. Consider the world through the prism of India’s national, economic and security interests and concerns. Which countries matter? The US, China, Japan, Germany, Russia, Singapore, most of the ASEAN nations, countries in West Asia, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, all of South Asia and most of sub-Saharan Africa. Figure out who shapes our thinking about each of these countries.

The emergence of new powers is one thing. The growing relevance of an increasing number of countries to India’s power is another. Both require a multifaceted view of the world. An Indian view of the world.

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Topics : #Last Word | #opinion

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