In a scathing commentary on Indian media, the influential British weekly The Economist has said that India’s democracy may be “stronger than Pakistan’s”, and “less prone to coups and violence”, with its minorities “more secure” than Pakistan's.
However, pointing towards how Indians “assume” that their media are “freer”, The Economist said, the country's media had failed to be “not much critical” in examining of the government’s actions on surgical strikes.
“Instead”, The Economic said in its commentary titled “All hail India’s press is more craven than Pakistan’s” (October 22), “Indian media have vied to beat war drums the loudest.”
In sharp contrast, the weekly showed, how Pakistan's journalist Cyril Almeida, reported on t”ensions between the Pakistani army and civilian leaders over the border crisis with India, which began last month when infiltrators from Pakistan killed 19 Indian soldiers.”
The result was,earlier this month he was “banned from traveling abroad after writing a story that embarrassed Pakistan’s security forces”, and when “India’s tabloid press gloated”, The Economist said, “The Schadenfreude proved short-lived.”
It said, “To general surprise, Almeida’s colleagues rallied in noisy support. Pakistani newspapers, rights groups, journalists’ clubs and social media chorused outrage at his persecution. The pressure worked; the ban got lifted.”
On the other hand, the weekly said, “When an army spokesman, providing very few details, announced on September 29 that India had carried out a retaliatory 'surgical strike; against alleged terrorist bases along the border, popular news channels declared it a spectacular triumph and an act of subtle statecraft.”
Without naming anyone, The Economist said, “Some anchors took to describing India’s neighbour as 'terror state Pakistan'. One station reconfigured its newsroom around a sandbox-style military diorama, complete with flashing lights and toy fighter planes.”
Not just this, the journal said, “A parade of mustachioed experts explained how 'our boys' would teach Pakistan a lesson it would never forget.” Calling it “jingoism” which was “predictable, given the fierce competition for ratings among India’s news groups”, it underlined, “Disturbingly, however, the diehard nationalists have gone on the offensive against fellow Indians, too.”
Referring to NDTV and calling it a news channel with a reputation for sobriety, the weekly pointed towards how it “abruptly canceled” the much advertised an interview with Congress leader and ex-finance minister P Chidambaram.
“Chidambaram was expected to say that previous governments had also hit back at Pakistan, but with less fanfare than the present one”, The Economist said, adding, “An executive sniffed that it was 'not obliged to carry every shred of drivel' and would not 'provide a platform for outrageous and wild accusations'.”
“Arnab Goswami, the anchor of a particularly raucous talk show, has declared that critics of the government should be jailed”, the weekly regretted.
Pointing towards how “extreme nationalists in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, have urged filmmakers to ban Pakistani actors”, the weekly said, things went so far that a film's director, Karan Johar, featuring Fawad Khan, a Pakistani heartthrob, had to air a statement “declaring his patriotism, explaining that the film was shot before the current trouble and promising never again to work with talent from 'the neighbouring country'.”
In this backdrop, the weekly agreed with Chidambaram, wondering why was “the media toeing the government line so slavishly”, saying, one answer to this question is, it has become more “concentrated in the hands of big corporations, many of which carry heavy debts and so are wary of offending the party in power.”
“Others”, said the weekly, “Ascribe the shrinking space for dissent to the unchecked rise of chauvinist Hindu-nationalist groups”, with “repressive colonial-era laws on sedition and libel” playing “a part”.
All this is happening, the weekly said, when the Indian public is “tired of endless brinkmanship with Pakistan and yearns for stronger, more effective government”, insisting, “Of course, to be truly strong and effective, governments need to tolerate and even heed critics.”