The Role of Media in Influencing India’s Foreign Policy

Since one of the major roles enacted by the media is informing people about the various occurrences taking place all over the world, it thus indirectly affects the foreign policy of democratic nations by influencing the people. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky have described one of the roles of the media as manufacturing consent in the minds of the people with regard to foreign policy. 

In the context of India, the media is a bigger factor in shaping its foreign policy as opposed to the domestic policy, which is moulded by several other factors. This role has seen many changes over the decades, which can be divided into two distinct phases. The first phase lasted from 1947 to 1990, during which almost all media outlets in the country were owned by the government and thus the dissemination of information was largely state controlled. Gradually, a few newspapers with private ownership started printing, but even these had ulterior political affiliations, since one political party or the other would be their patron. 

The second phase began from 1991, when ownership truly diversified. This also coincided with the government’s LPG policy. Over the years, media companies that were entirely private became more commonplace, and now there is greater freedom of publication, and the media can openly criticise the government’s policies. Even though current affairs on the radio, and the Doordarshan channel on television fall under the purview of the government, many individuals and organisations have been able to access the media through private ownership. 

An important point to be noted here is that most domestic newspapers and television channels depend on agencies and correspondents from abroad (such as Reuters), and buy foreign television programmes for international news. As a result, the international news broadcast is done after the subjective filtering of these foreign agencies. In addition, through its reportage, films, and television shows, the Indian media also ascribes watertight compartments to other countries. For example, it mainly focuses on tense relations with Pakistan, portraying the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan in an intense state and even dramatizing it to some extent. 

The media is also known to add fuel to its own artificial fire; taking the case of the Sino-Indian border issue, if forces encounter one another at the Line of Actual Control, the standard practice involves showing banners, calling the other side to withdraw, which might escalate into a demand for meetings between higher officials. These incidents are fairly normal but are described by the media as a ‘face-off’, painting the situation as something more threatening that it is. The exaggerated criticism of the Chinese military’s actions near the LAC has been described as ‘hysteria’ by Indian strategic analysts.

Another instance was during the Sharm El Sheikh summit in 2009, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted an Indo-Pak rapprochement, and agreed to a clause accusing India of conducting militancy in Balochistan. This issue culminated into a major controversy, where the media described the Prime Minister’s actions as a “huge blunder”, as a result of which the rapprochement initiatives were ultimately halted. Even during the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, a prominent newspaper and a chief proponent of the deal, changed sides after the fallout of the Left parties with the Manmohan Singh government over the issue, thus clearly showing how media can influence (or try to influence) the foreign policy. 

However, the extent to which the media can affect foreign policy depends on how responsive the government is to its ways. For instance, in the case of the Pulwama attacks, some people took to posting messages encouraging a war with Pakistan, while others took to publicly condemning the former group. This seemed to have little to no effect on the Modi government, which maintained its stance. What must be noted is that governments tend to maintain a high level of secrecy, especially when controversial issues are in question. The extent to which the media can influence the government therefore depends to a great degree on the government itself. Further, other issues such as the lack of expertise in reporting, poor editorial supervision and strategic gimmickry of deliberately distorting news to attract an audience act as a hurdle for the media to be taken seriously by the government. Thus, the Indian media still has a long way to go before it can play a significant and absolute role in the making of foreign policy. 

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