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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

“Bias” in Indian Media – an Insider’s view

Bhagwad Jal Park

One very common allegation I’ve heard these days is that the Indian media isn’t honest. There are those who try and sensibly analyze the issue, and those whose vitriolic comments are quite honestly an embarrassment to sensible bloggers in India. But to sum up, here are the main allegations:

  1. The Indian media is anti Hindu
  2. Big media houses are “pro minority”
  3. Political parties (especially the Congress) fund the media for favorable coverage

Now my personal opinion is that these are false. Of course, since I don’t have all the information, it may not count for much. But my reasons for disbelieving them are:

  1. It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the big media houses
  2. It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever
  3. I find it impossible to believe that other well funded parties like the BJP would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it
  4. It means that all editors, associated bloggers and correspondents are involved. Meaning that every single reporter and writer is dishonest
Is the Indian Media Biased?

Is the Indian Media Biased?

Such considerations to my mind, are too great a barrier to overcome. However, I could always be wrong and so I withheld my opinions on this until I was able to grab some reliable information instead of shooting off my mouth and making an idiot of myself.

One of my college mates from Stephen’s has been working for the TOI for quite a while now. Like all corporate employees, he has a good deal of disillusionment with work life in general and with his own company specifically. Without intending to flatter him, he’s one of the most well informed guys I know. Unlike many others in our college who studied day and night for the IAS mugging up facts from books, this guy seemed to know everything without even trying. Combine this with his somewhat impressive academic achievements, and we have a dude who’s opinion I trust – especially when he’s in a position to know the facts.

So I decided to ask him about the perceived media biases.I reproduce the chat I had with him verbatim:

Bhagwad Park 14:20
Oh MM - now that you’re here let me ask you something I can’t ask anyone else

MM 14:21

Bhagwad Park 14:22
See – there’s a lot of debate on whether the India media is biased against the BJP, sympathetic to muslims, the congress party and the Gandhi-Nehru family specifically

MM 14:22
media like everything else is divided

MM 14:22
There are even more who speculate that major national media like the TOI even receive funding
from these sources 14:22

MM 14:22
categorically, no 14:22
for toi i can tell yu 14:22
and u know i have problems with this place, so i aint singing for my supper 14:23
no organisational tilt at all 14:23
its a liberal paper 14:23
will tilt a bit here and there based on issues 14:23

others r different 14:24
rediff.com for eg., clearly goes right 14:24
online 14:24

in print HT is a congress aligned paper, its owner is a Cong MP 14:24
but no it dont get any money from Cong either 14:25

Hindu is a liberal paper too, but its current editor is a commie 14:25
but the paper remains fairly liberal and left of centre, nothing more 14:25

Indian Express doesnt matter to readers, its liberal too 14:25
but will be anti-gov of any party in power 14:26

DNA is also similar – largely liberal but its ed and owners are a little righty 14:26

so thats where the right -wing in india has a prob 14:26
they see the english media as biased 14:27
i see it as sensible 14:27

language media is a whole diff ballgame 14:27
diff alignments and biases 14:27
vary by region 14:27
and also have issues of parties funding some of the smaller outfits – but thats a big ‘maybe’ 14:28
but those alignments r very clear 14:28
for people in the know 14:28
so not much of a problem 14:28

big media houses like Times dont need money from parties 14:28
and would in fact run away from any such offers 14:28
for the strings that would come attached 14:28

english Tv media is also largely liberal on the communal front 14:29
can be left-right/soft-hard on other issues 14:29

Bhagwad Park 14:29
This also goes for television houses like NDTV etc?

MM 14:29
thats abt it
yes 14:29

Bhagwad Park 14:29
Ok…but people present statistics showing that Hindu deaths for example go unreported and that Muslim deaths are presented in all fanfare

Bhagwad Park 14:30
Coincidence, incompetence
or what? 14:30

MM 14:30

MM 14:30
communal deaths are communal
besides india is founded on a very clear ideal 14:30
u must remember that 14:30
and was split very painfully on an opposing ideal 14:31
one major reason for the ‘majority’ to be accomodative of the ‘minorities’ 14:31

Bhagwad Park 14:31
See this one small quote from a blogger for example:

Bhagwad Park 14:32
“The Indian media needs to project riots between Hindus and some other community to be selective persecution of the ‘minority’. This impression can again be only created by largely omitting the violence committed against the Hindus. This, I believe, is the reason that the deaths of around 200 Hindus that had occurred in post-Godhra riots in Gujarat are hardly given any coverage. ”
Now I don’t know the details 14:32

Bhagwad Park 14:32
So what response would you give to something like that?

MM 14:32
over 2000 muslimes died

MM 14:32
in a near-genocide
where they were targeted 14:32
so thats the answer 14:33
200 vs 2000 14:33

Bhagwad Park 14:33

MM 14:33
provocation was limted
and result was a planned pogrom 14:33
where everyone co-operated 14:33
its was like nazi germany 14:33

MM 14:33
the police watched
on orders to do so 14:33

MM 14:34
CM presided over the carnage
so now, you tell me, whats scarier? 14:34

MM 14:34
in streets where some muslims had houses and shops
only those were targeted – based on electoral rolls supplied by the admin – this has been proven in courts 14:34
so thats no riot. 14:35
A riot is spontaneous and uncontrolled, total chaos 14:35
this is targeted slaughter 14:35
I agree radical islam is a problem 14:35
many muslims do not ‘integrate’ into the larger mainstream across the world 14:35
even in India 14:36
and India must be considered a secular nation of clearly hindu-majority character 14:36
just as say Europe or the US are secular but shaped by their christian ethos and history 14:37
…but thats no reason for the majority not to safeguard its minorities

MM 14:38
thats the compact we made at independence
to prove to a country like Paksitan, thats we’re NOT them 14:38
we’re not founded on an exclusivist principle 14:38
we’re inclusive and open to all 14:38

MM 14:39
hindu fundamentalists are idiots who dont realise that want they want is a Hindu version of Pakistan

Bhagwad Park 14:39
Yes, I know the ideals
Odd MM - I didnt’ know you had the “Mera bharat mahan” spirit :D 14:39

Bhagwad Park 14:39
Nice going.

MM 14:39
the idea of india is a beautiful one , my friend

Bhagwad Park 14:39

MM 14:40
considering where it came from and how it came into being too
quite extraordinary 14:40
any historian will tell you that 14:40
India is still like Europe 14:40
but happens to be one nation 14:40
some sort of miracle really 14:40
only part of kashmir and the NE today question the conept of indianess 14:41
no one else does 14:41

MM 14:41
thats a remarkable achievement in nation building

Bhagwad Park 14:41
Tis tis
Thanks for the feedback 14:41

MM 14:42
ok, thats it for today
true blood and sleep beckon 14:42

Bhagwad Park 14:42
I’ll send you a link…
ciao 14

I had to do a little bit of cut and paste to compensate for the synchronization problems usually found on Internet chat, but it’s otherwise “as is.” Since his views on the Godhra violence weren’t directly related to the question on media bias, I thought of leaving them out but decided to keep them in the end cause he brought out some good points.

We have to know which sources to trust. Those alleging a national media bias don’t have any evidence. Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean they’re wrong. But when I do have opinions from people I trust who are in a position to know, I choose to believe them.

Update: I had missed this great link which gives the official position of the Times of India on its role in the political spectrum. It terms itself as a classically liberal newspaper and illustrates how it handles various issues including the right to freedom of expression.

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