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Vineet Ravindran asked: Why does the 'Western narrative' dominate the global information/media landscape? What tools does it employ and how does it impact global events? How can the non-Western world balance it?

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  • Uttam Kumar Sinha replies: In the last three decades, increasing globalisation, development of capitalism, and deregulation policies have radically transformed the mass media, which includes international news broadcasts, television, film, and music. What used to be relatively national in scope has now become a competitive catchment of global audiences.

    Behind the transformation lies, more often than not, Western cultural imperialism in pursuit of commercial interests and imperialist control of the liberal democratic narrative. The Western media, it can be argued, is replicating the prejudices of colonialism by imaging and creating a powerful perception of the modern developed world as a saviour of the ‘corrupt, chaotic and poverty-stricken’ developing world. The medium and the message have become intertwined, or to use media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s everlasting phrase ‘the medium is the message’.  The message is: you are guilty and be necessarily apologetic if you are not a liberal democracy. But in a post-Western world order with shifts in the global balance of power, a counter message of non-Western democracy is emerging. And this is good news!

    Left-liberal leaning ideologies or outlook have dominated the editorials of prominent newspapers and news agencies in the West. For example, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today are left-leaning newspapers in the US. In the UK, The Guardian is explicitly left-leaning. In a systemic sense, whether right-leaning or left-leaning, newspapers and media houses have shaped opinions and influenced the news content. The question is not whether the newspaper is left or right or centre but how balanced, credible and sensitive is the reporting. The editorials and opinions, however, have a view or perspective which can be biased and, more dangerously, dishonest. Often the balance is intentionally eschewed.

    The wider the reach, the greater the influence. For example, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have an envious global digital readership that makes them important influencers of opinion and tends to mobilise groups around issues. It is a fact that one has to live with or as in the case of India since there is considerable news bias, a need to correct it. A report titled ‘An Analysis of Global Media Coverage of Events in India’, published in the October–December 2021 issue of The Communicator, a peer-reviewed journal of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, gives a detailed analysis of how India-centric reporting is taking place in prominent newspapers mentioned above. It provides an interesting insight into the growth of digital readership in India from 2019–2021. India is a big market for global news outlets, and all big media houses are making significant investments. While this is a welcome attraction, it will be incomplete and meaningless if a counter-narrative is not created. A strong and competitive global media voice has to emerge from India that not only corrects the prejudices and stereotypes but brings in through its reporting, opinions and coverage an honest and credible account of India’s functioning democracy, its cultural diversity, and the efforts underway to make India strong, secure and stable.

    Posted on 10 November 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.