It’s time for the western media to get new glasses

“India’s future now stands at a crossroads. Mr Modi is advocating a self-sufficient, muscular nationalism centred on the country’s Hindu majority. That vision put him at odds with the interfaith, multicultural goals of modern India’s founders. The government’s growing efforts to police online speech and media discourse have raised difficult questions about balancing issues of security and privacy with free speech.”

The narrative, which appears to be part of an article on the editorial page of a newspaper, is actually a part of an advertisement on the New York Times website. Through this, the New York Times is looking for a business correspondent for South Asia. I don’t know whether it has found a correspondent to fill the post or not, but this astonishing text has found a place in the social discourse along with the media. Questions are being asked that, through such an advertisement, is the newspaper inviting only those journalists who have some personal grudge against Narendra Modi? In this advertisement, the border dispute between India and China has been described as a “drama”. Was the martyrdom of 20 Indian soldiers in Ladakh part of a drama? Such thinking of a reputed media organization raises concerns.

It is worth noting that Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives will also come under the coverage areas of this correspondent. It is needless to say that if someone who agrees with this ideology of the newspaper will report on such a large area, then what will be the undertone of his/her articles and what will be its effect on the mutual relations between the countries of this subcontinent?

Not that the New York Times is doing this for the first time. From Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, they all were victims of its attacks at one time or another. Its antagonism towards India and our current leadership is clearly visible. Describing Modi as a Hindu right-winger, it conveniently omits that incumbent US President Joe Biden describes himself as a proud Catholic. Barack Obama, one of America’s most popular presidents, also held his early political meetings at churches in different parts of America.

In the past few years, there have been several occasions when the New York Times had ridiculed India in various ways. For example, when our MiG-21 crashed in Pakistan, the Indian Army’s armoury was compared to an “archaeological stockpile”. In an article published in November 2017, the sari was linked to chauvinistic nationalism. The writer forgot or decided to deliberately forget that the sari is the common garment of women across the subcontinent. Similarly, in 2014, a very lewd cartoon was published mocking India’s Mars mission. It showed an Indian wearing a dhoti holding a bull rope as he is knocking on the doors of the ‘Elite Space Club’ of the West. The editorial board later apologized for the derogatory cartoon, saying that it was not its intention to downplay the Mars mission or to insult India and its citizens.

It does not end here. In its articles, the newspaper had sometimes referred to Lata Mangeshkar as a “so-called” playback singer and sometimes ridiculed former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa by remembering her as a mere “former heroine” on her death.

A few years ago, I spent hours with some of the newspaper’s editors at its headquarters in New York. During the discussion, I asked how do such blunders happen to an institution like the New York Times? Their reply was that they would try to be more alert to avoid such mistakes in future. But alas, it did not happen.

Let me share one of my experiences. It is my habit to go out on a crowded metro train or bus to any new or old neighbourhood market of the National Capital Region whenever I get the time. There is no better way to understand the pulse of your readers. It was the evening of 24 December during the first tenure of the Modi government. I boarded the train coming from Dwarka to Noida. It was around 8pm. There was a crowd of young people who had come out to celebrate Christmas Eve with glee. The enthusiasm was evident throughout the coach. I was delighted by this ambience. Suddenly, a tweet from the New York Times popped up on my mobile. It was about a news item on how Christians in New Delhi and other parts of the country are afraid to celebrate Christmas. The youth occupying the coach were certainly of all religions and sects, and their festive fervour was just the opposite of this news item. That report was full of incomplete facts. I tried to explain by tweeting a counter that the report was wrong, but neither was there a refutation nor a reply to the tweet. Would you consider this healthy journalism?

It is not that the Western media did not work in the interest of humanity, but it is true that when it comes to countries in Asia and Africa, many times it makes mistakes. Decades ago, a section of the Western media made a historical mistake. It justified Hitler and described Stalin as the biggest enemy of the West. Is it still plagued by colonial and racist frustration?

Hitler reminds me of another allegation about the New York Times that during the Second World War, it did not publish any news about the worst massacre of Jews on the front page for many weeks. It was also found that from September 1939 to May 1945, very few stories about Jewish victims made the New York Times front page. All these examples suggest that the time has come when the entire Western media needs to change its old spectacles. There is no place for such blatant contempt in a changing world.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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