There has been outrage in Kathmandu over the jingoistic and belittling tone of Indian media following Nepal’s publication of a new political map of the country including Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura. Indian TV channels are now openly saying that Nepal did so at Beijing’s behest and the country has thus become a ‘puppet of China’.
Indian TV news channels are notorious for exaggerating and sensationalizing issues. In the case of Nepal-India relations, they also seem poorly informed. And this is not the first time something like this has happened.
For one, they seem short on hard facts about border issues between India and Nepal. This is perhaps because in normal times they rarely give much importance to Nepal-India relations. But when something significant happens, they rush to run news stories, host television shows, and publish commentaries.
Says Tara Nath Dahal, chief executive of Kathmandu-based media think tank Freedom Forum: “They often lack background information on what is happening between the two countries. When something big happens, they manipulate it as they see fit.”
The way it is being portrayed, many Indian media houses seem unaware that Kalapani and Susta are two disputed territories that Nepal has for long been trying to resolve with India. Most reports say Nepal damaged the bilateral relation by issuing a new political map. But they fail to mention that India too had issued a controversial map in November without consulting Nepal, and that the Indian defense minister had recently inaugurated a road passing through disputed territories.
In recent years, the Indian media have been recalling their Kathmandu-based correspondents and closing down bureaus, indicating that Nepal no more falls under their radar in normal times. This has hampered the flow of information from Kathmandu to media operators in Delhi.
“In the past, full-time correspondents and bureaus used to send authentic information from here, which helped Delhi understand Kathmandu better,” recalls Dahal. There are now very few journalists in New Delhi who exclusively cover comparably smaller countries like Nepal. Foreign correspondents are mostly occupied, and perhaps understandably, with big powers such as China and the United States.
Media expert and educator Kundan Aryal says Indian Hindi-language TV channels often run unconfirmed reports. Besides, the Indian society has no access to Nepali media products. Those interested may get information from a few of Nepal’s online English news portals. Yet they have almost no access to the vast Nepali language media.
On the other hand, Indian online portals and television news channels are quite popular in Nepal. “If they cared about what the Nepali media is saying, they would have found a way to know. In that case, they could also better understand Nepal,” Dahal says.
One problem with Indian media operators, according to Dahal, is that they often reflect Indian hegemonic attitude and don’t treat Nepal as a sovereign country.
Meanwhile, Aryal reckons the content of Indian media is often doctored. “They run such content incessantly on TV, newspapers, and online portals. It has earned them an image of unreliability and jingoism,” he says.
Nepalis had a taste of how the Indian media worked when their TV crews arrived here in droves in the aftermath of 2015 earthquakes. According to Aryal, they started behaving like the public relations departments of the Indian Army and PM Modi right from the beginning. “They produced news as if Nepal had already collapsed and Modi, as the savior, had sent the Indian army to rescue the country.”
An Indian TV reporter went so far as to direct the camera at somebody trapped inside the rubble and ask, “How are you feeling like that?” The visitors faced harsh criticism and public anger in Kathmandu. Nepali youths started a social media campaign with the hashtag #GoBackIndianMedia, which instantly trended.
Indian media has earned infamy on other occasions also. “Indian TV channels have sensationalized issues during Indo-China border standoff of 2017, Indo-Pak tension about Kashmir of 2019, and during the current Nepal-India border dispute. They cook up conspiracy theories and baseless arguments,” says Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, a media researcher at Universality of Ottawa, Canada. Political talk shows run by Indian TVs undermine professional values of journalism such as accuracy, balance, credibility, decency, and fair play, he adds.
“In principle, media talk shows should promote mutual understanding between or among the parties in discussion,” Acharya says. But Indian TV shows feature more sensational and angry exchanges. They create a toxic environment among debating parties and end any chance of reconciliation, according to Acharya. “The hosts of these Indian TV channels speak as if they are government spokespersons, they know everything, and there is no room for further discussion."