South Asian media is too nationalistic, lacks regional perspective, Delhi Conclave told
New Delhi Correspondent, bdnews24.com
Published: 2015-09-29 18:34:36.0 BdST Updated: 2015-09-30 21:09:02.0 BdST
Politicians hold the key to solving South Asia’s problems including barriers to economic integration while the media can only raise questions trying to hold them to account, media leaders have said at a major regional event in New Delhi.
At least two senior editors even blamed the media for causing problems rather than helping solve them.
India’s huge media industry, with 95,000 newspapers, came in for heavy criticism for failing to live up to expectations of the rest of the region.
South Asian media groups needed to invest more in newsgathering within the region, said bdnews24.com Editor-in-Chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi.
He was speaking at a plenary session on the 'role of media in South Asian economic integration' at the Sept 28-30 South Asia Economic Conclave in Delhi on Tuesday.
Others on the panel also said the region covered India while India was not interested in news from the rest of the region, a criticism Indrani Bagchi of The Times of India endorsed.
“India is obsessed with itself,” said Bagchi, the paper’s diplomatic editor, who moderated the session.
"That needs to change if we look at any meaningful role the media can play to bring people in the region closer," Khalidi said.
bdnews24.com, he said, has six journalists in India, including in states around Bangladesh and there is a special slot on neighbours.
"Unfortunately, even major Indian media outlets do not employ a full-time correspondent in Bangladesh," Khalidi said.
Lotfullah Najafizada, director of Tolonews TV of Afghanistan, and Kanak Mani Dixit, the founder editor of Nepal's Himal South Asian magazine, supported Khalidi.
Najam Sethi and Amin Hashwani of Pakistan and Ashok Tirwa of Bhutan also spoke at the plenary session on how media can drive forward-looking agenda in the region.
Sethi, celebrated editor of Pakistan’s Friday Times, said Track II approach had not worked in solving key regional disputes.
He gave examples of how media played a role in keeping thorny issues such as Kashmir alive.
Sethi said media created more problems than solved.
Dixit of Nepal’s Himal echoed Sethi and said journalists’ jingoistic attitude made things worse in some cases.
Dixit said there was a problem with the media’s mindset and that a lack of willingness to go beyond national interest was frustrating.
Afghanistan’s Najafizada said India’s four-billion-dollar media industry was doing very little in providing the leadership when it came to covering the region.
The three-day event in New Delhi aimed to spur inclusive growth, and the deliberations by the media leaders sought to “understand the role of media” in economic integration.
“Negative perceptions remain a significant hurdle to economic integration,” the organisers said in the preamble to the media session. “While most countries in SAARC have a free and vigilant media, this is increasingly in peril as big business and political considerations shape media developments in the region.”
The Confederation of Indian Industry and India’s commerce ministry are the organisers of the event, with strong support from The World Bank Group and corporate sponsors.
Khalidi dealt with questions as to how media can take a “constructive tone” and become “mutually more appreciative” given that reporting on cross-border issues “often takes a sensationalist rather than a constructive tone”.
“First, how do you define being “constructive”? And what is sensationalism? Where do you draw the line?”
“Is there any universally accepted definition for it?
“We’ll report Felani,” said Khalidi. “That’s news for me. That may be sensationalism from your point of view.
“Now at some point, I’ll stop talking about it, but there are those that will continue to see headline material in the story. So they will be reproducing the picture, replaying the story, again and again. And you will not like it.”
The bdnews24.com editor-in-chief continued: “Unfortunately, we are a divided nation; we are pathetically polarised along political lines. Too many of my journalist colleagues are partisan, and cannot go out of the party political box.
“So if the party’s interest lies in bashing India or promoting Pakistan, they do it. [There are plenty of] poor headlines – [which are] not just un-journalistic but at times instigating hate crime or inciting communal tension.”
Then he added: “Handling of one of the planet’s most-porous borders that is Bangladesh-India geographical divide is a challenge. But, Felani or no Felani, barbed fencing doesn’t give me a good feeling.”
On how media of India and Bangladesh can collaborate to “give positive direction” to regional and bilateral issues, Khalidi said media could only play a supportive role.
“We’ll criticise, we’ll point out mistakes, we’ll talk about policy failures, and the direction – positive or negative – will come from there,” he said.
“There is no alternative to professionalism. News is a product. And there is no alternative to quality! We must accept the fact that bad news is big news.”
There’s so much to be done in facilitating trade and investment, building infrastructure, promoting cultural exchange or easing movement of people across the region, he said and added the responsibility lay with the politicians.
“The job has to be done by the politicians,” Khalidi said.
“We in the media can only report what happens. And in these times of as-it-happens news delivered as quickly as possible, we have very little time to control quality. But surely we can also report what doesn’t happen but ought to happen (in our understanding), and maybe the ways to make it happen.
“But the responsibility as well as the power lies with the politicians or those non-political actors who exercise political power in certain cases.”
Later in remarks made in response to questions from the floor, he said: "This conclave is a good initiative from CII with support from the Indian government, but what I hear from my friends in politics as well as business is not very encouraging.
“They tell me it's very difficult to get anything out of our counterparts including (those in) India. That has to change."
"We must not create another talking shop," Khalidi said, in a reference to plans to make the regional economic conclave an annual event.
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