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India’s Unique National Conditions Require Responsible Reporting From The Media
Domestic and international media operating in India – to say nothing of activist groups, both those that are purely indigenous as well as those with international connections via “NGOs” and other means – have a much greater responsibility with their reporting than their Western counterparts do. The inordinately greater multitude of preexisting socio-political (“soft security”) fault lines there due to that cosmopolitan millennia-old civilization-state’s unique national conditions means that irresponsible and reckless reporting can be dangerous.
The Guardian’s Kenan Malik lambasted his Indian homeland in a hateful diatribe on Sunday about how “India enjoyed a free and vibrant media. Narendra Modi’s brazen attacks are a catastrophe”. In it, he doubles down on the US-led West’s emerging information warfare narrative alleging that this globally significant Great Power is rapidly descending into a dictatorship under Prime Minister Modi. As supposed proof of this trend, Malik points to various scandals surrounding the media’s role in society.
His piece might succeed in misleading some of The Guardian’s targeted Western audience about the state of affairs in India because of the way in which they conceptualize the relationship between the media and state in their countries. Theoretically, the first-mentioned is supposed to function as the so-called “fourth estate” for keeping the second in check. Media outlets are therefore considered to be independent of state influence, but that’s not truly the case in this civilization, nor has it ever been.
In recent years, Western governments have manipulated their population’s naïve perceptions about the media’s role in their society and its relationship to the state to transform those outlets into tacit purveyors of government policy. This is done through: 1) the ties that various officials established with certain journalists; 2) some of the first’s tendency to work in the media after retiring from public service; and 3) the state’s pressure on specific foreign outlets like Russia’s to stop their operations.
In the order that they were presented, these developments serve to: 1) co-opt or manipulate certain journalists into functioning as propagandists of state policy; 2) ensuring that ideologically driven officials continue exerting their former employer’s policies in this domain; and 3) discredit the false notion of that the state doesn’t meddle in the media’s affairs on the pretext of national security concerns (irrespective of whether observers agree with this explanation or not).
The last-mentioned is relevant to analyze in the context of Malik’s anti-Indian hit piece since it touches upon the idea of “Democratic Security”, which refers to the wide range of counter-Hybrid Warfare tactics and strategies aimed at counteracting externally exacerbated threats to a country’s democracy. In the Western case, allegations of so-called “Russian meddling” are used to justify efforts to make its outlets’ continued operation impossible or outright force them to close.
Digging deeper into the narrative details, those who support this crackdown point to the possibility of Russia amplifying divisive narratives via these platforms in order to sow discord between Western countries’ cosmopolitan people. Accordingly, they claim, this scenario must either be preemptively thwarted or subsequently reacted to in order to prevent the external exacerbation of preexisting socio-political (“soft security”) and other fault lines that could worsen to the point of inter-group violence.
India has similar concerns, which are much more acute and credible by virtue of its larger size, demographic composition, and historical context, among other factors that clearly differentiate its “soft security” situation from the West’s and thus confirm its uniqueness. Just like the US-led West’s Golden Billion has the sovereign right to undertake whatever means its leadership deems necessary to protect their national models of democracy, especially in the current New Cold War context, so too does India.
Unlike the West, however, domestic and international media operating in India – to say nothing of activist groups, both those that are purely indigenous as well as those with international connections via “NGOs” and other means – have a much greater responsibility with their reporting. The inordinately greater multitude of preexisting “soft security” fault lines there due to that millennia-old civilization-state’s unique national conditions means that irresponsible and reckless reporting can be dangerous.
That examples that Malik mentioned in his agenda-driven article aimed at discrediting India’s “Democratic Security” policies inadvertently justify their necessity since each represented an instance where irresponsible and reckless reporting could have unwittingly provoked or worsened identity conflict. This is because the “soft security” situation inside India is more sensitive than ever since the information-communication technology revolution facilitated the proliferation of disinformation.
To explain, it’s never been easier for bad actors to manipulate the perceptions of specific demographics in India via information warfare means because practically everyone has a cell phone and a social media account connected to it nowadays through which weaponized divide-and-rule narratives are spread. Banning social media and related messaging apps like WhatsApp is unrealistic since the majority use them for innocent purposes, hence the importance of pre-bunking and bolstering media literacy.
Nevertheless, given India’s immense size and certain disparities between some demographics, this is a work in progress that’s only gradually being implemented. It’ll thus obviously take time to fully succeed, hence the significance of the state’s proactive “Democratic Security” policies during this interim period while the population is being educated about how to defend themselves from manipulation. Quite understandably, this naturally takes the form of ensuring responsible media reporting.
Those who get carried away covering sensitive issues or have ill intents in terms of how they frame them can end up having their information products provoke or worsen inter-identity violence. Thus far, there doesn’t exist any comprehensive list of standards for how to properly report on such issues, let alone a mechanism for confirming that information actors (alternative/conventional media, activists/”NGOs”, and average folks alike) have been informed of the aforesaid and understand it all.
Truth be told, it might ultimately be difficult to implement such a solution due to India’s size and democratic traditions, but that doesn’t mean that progress still can’t be made in that direction. For instance, media literacy can be incorporated into the educational curriculum to improve the related “Democratic Security” capabilities of the next generation while accelerated means can be introduced in higher education to bring the current one up to speed.
A public-private partnership could also be struck between the state and patriotic civil society groups to create a training course that information actors like alternative/conventional media and activists/”NGOs” could voluntarily take to learn about their responsibilities and receive certification. To be clear, what’s being proposed isn’t that every information actor be mandated to take these courses, but just that the option should exist for intrepid ones who truly want to behave responsibly.
The demonstration effect of those aforementioned information actors voluntarily learning the full range of their responsibilities and how to properly report on sensitive issues can serve to inspire others to follow their lead lest they be suspected by the populace of neglecting their professional duties. Those who don’t receive the related certification might thus no longer be trusted in the public’s eyes as much as before after signaling that they have zero interest in learning how to do responsible reporting.
That outcome could thus reduce the chances that their irresponsible and reckless reporting about sensitive issues could inadvertently (if not deliberately in the event that they’re an ill-intended actor) exacerbate identity differences to the point of violence. This proposal therefore represents a pragmatic compromise solution between India’s democratic traditions, freedom of the press, and this civilization-state’s unique national conditions that require responsible reporting about sensitive issues.
Returning back to Malik’s anti-Indian hit piece, it can now be seen in a completely different light after reflecting on the insight shared in the present analysis. Every country is imperfect in terms of how it implements “Democratic Security”, with some like those in the West clearly exploiting this pretext for purely political reasons vis-à-vis their geostrategic rivals like Russia, but India has the chance to do better and set global standards in this respect by prioritizing related policies to protect its democracy.