Most Indian TV news channels and many Indian newspapers have limited knowledge of Nepal. Earlier, they used to have resident reporters in Kathmandu, who made some effort to understand ground realities here. These days, most Indian media outlets don’t have such knowledgeable reporters in Kathmandu to bank upon. They rather rely on their New Delhi-based sources for second-hand (and often inaccurate) information on Nepal. This leads to inaccuracy in reporting. But even more than a lack of knowledge, it is their constant chase for eyeballs and salacious headlines that make them overstep journalistic norms.
Nepal has been a victim of many such inappropriate and biased Indian reporting in recent times. During the 2015 earthquakes, the Indian news channels portrayed their country as a ‘savior’ of Nepalis, suggesting Nepal would have been helpless without its help. They also inflated the damages. This self-important attitude of the Indian media resulted in a ‘Go Back India’ campaign. The same condescending attitude was on display during the blockade later that year. Often, the Indian media appeared to be repeating the fodder the South Block provided them rather than trying to find the truth themselves.
To be fair, the bulk of the Indian broadcast media is not very objective about events inside India too. They display a clear political bias. The channels that question the official line can be blacked out. Yet perhaps time has come for India to better regulate its private broadcast outlets—at least when it comes to their coverage of events outside India. In fact, the Press Council of India has spelled out that as media play an important role in molding public opinion and developing better understanding between countries, “objective reporting so as not to jeopardize friendly bilateral relations is therefore desirable.”
‘Objective reporting’ is all that is needed. Indian journalists’ flouting of this government guideline has repercussions on India’s image in smaller countries in the region and on vital bilateral relations. Rightly or wrongly, people in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan see these Indian channels as representatives of the Indian government. As these channels have mass appeal, whenever they broadcast something objectionable about one of the smaller countries, these countries fear that the entire region is being misinformed. And this high-handed attitude of the Indian media is seen as yet another evidence of ‘Indian hegemony’.
Journalists have biases too. But why would Indian journalists misrepresent these countries that mostly have amicable relations with India? Nepal is not China (India’s main strategic rival) or Pakistan (its chief antagonist). So if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is serious about his ‘Neighborhood First’ policy, why not ask these channels to be more careful in their reporting so as not to damage India’s image in the neighborhood? Isn’t that in India’s interest, too? Again, we are not asking these Indian channels to always give ‘positive spin’ to stories from here; only to balance things and make sure their reporting is accurate. If this small step can help improve India’s image in the neighborhood, why not?