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Editorial: Is the Western Media Biased Against India?

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
June 2024
Editorial: Is the Western Media Biased Against India?

Many Indians (and Indian Americans), especially those who align with right-wing ideology, love to harp about the anti-India bias of Western media such as The New York Times and BBC. So, I asked a couple of AI websites (Perplexity.ai and ChatGTP) to list “The New York Times articles from the past five years that are negative about India.” I then followed up with the same question, the only difference being that I replaced “negative” with “positive.” In both cases, I got about an equal number of articles from both the AI sites.

Functioning from an ideological bias, we dwell in our self-created universe, immersing ourselves in everything that affirms our bias while ignoring or rejecting that which doesn’t. In the world of right-wing WhatsApp warriors, articles that are positive about India rarely get much play, while the negative ones are forwarded relentlessly, making them viral. It never ceases to amaze me that these nationalists are more concerned about the image of India than the reality underlying it. And that they get more wound up about foreign media’s gaze upon India than about its march toward an authoritarian state where the funds of opposition parties are frozen and their leaders jailed on flimsy grounds. According to Human Rights Watch, the Indian government’s use of surveillance technology, such as the Pegasus spyware, has targeted over 40 journalists, creating a chilling effect on free speech.

This is not to say that the NYT, BBC, and other powerful media outlets are perfectly balanced. Is it possible that they publish more negative articles about India than positive ones? Sure. Does it mean they are biased against India? No. Those pointing fingers at them are exhibiting their naivete about the role of media as a watchdog. As much as Indian nationalists would like it, it is not upon these media outlets to project a
positive image of India, or any country for that matter. Both the NYT and BBC are notorious for being fierce critics of what goes on in their own countries. Does it mean they’re biased against them? No, it means they’re doing exactly what their function is in a progressive society.

Instead of pointing fingers at foreign media, these nationalists, if they really have the best interest of the nation at heart, should be more concerned about the majority of Indian media that has become propaganda tool for the ruling party. In doing so, they are enabling the false narrative that all is well and that the supreme leader is taking India to new heights. Sure, many wonderful things have been done by the Modi government, but all that means nothing if we lose our democracy or national unity.

These threats are real, especially seeing how Modi desperately notched up his communal agenda in the final weeks before the election. During a political rally in Rajasthan, he claimed that if Congress came to power, they would distribute the wealth of the nation to “ghuspethon” (“infiltrators”), obliquely referring to Muslims. Throughout more than seven decades of independent India, none of its leaders has been as brazenly communal as Modi. Nor as brazenly authoritarian as he. His followers like to point to Indira Gandhi’s infamous declaration of national emergency. As bad as it was, it pales in comparison to Modi’s agenda of a fundamental transformation of the nation’s charter from a secular democracy to a Hindu Rashtra.

Despite growing disillusionment with Modi, he will likely win another term, even if by a smaller margin than before. His jubilant fans will thumb a nose at those of us who tried to hold him accountable, including Western media. Later, they may come to realize that vigilant, watchdog media—anywhere in the world—is never a problem but rather that which helps hold nations together.

Parthiv N. Parekh is the Editor-in-Chief of Khabar magazine.

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