China and India are both now rising powers and therefore as neighbours, there is a necessity to create shared goals, according to Mr. Ma Zhanwu, the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kolkata.
Releasing the ORF report “Understanding China: Indian Media’s Perception of China —Analysis of Editorials” at ORF Kolkata on February 4, Mr Ma Zhanwu said both governments need to work together to eradicate poverty and improve living conditions.
The role of think tanks and similar organisations assumes importance in strengthening each other’s perceptions, Mr Ma Zhanwu said, adding “The observations of the report give an idea of how the print media in India treats China.” He felt two aspects of the Report, qualitative and quantitative – make the publication a more scientific one.
To build better perception about each other, India and China should have more people-to-people initiatives, active think tanks, and exchanges among government officials. The report observes that on the whole, negative perceptions outweigh positive ones and, Mr Ma felt, there are many reasons for this. More often than not, people in China get to know about India from media reports which mostly originate from western media.
Mr Ashok Dhar, Director, ORF Kolkata, recalled how the Kolkata chapter has made China a constant focus in its research endeavours. Considering the fact that India-China perception has largely been viewed through the lenses of Western scholars, the report stands out in its content and approach.
The Report, an analysis of editorials written on India, is authored by Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji and Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury. The research and data management team included Ms. Swagata Saha and Ms. Ambalika Guha.
Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji introduced the report, stating the relevance of perception in India-China relations and the rationale of the method followed. Ms. Swagata Saha highlighted key quantitative tools used to analyse the data while Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury pointed out qualitative nuances in the editorials examined by the report.
Mr. Sunanda K Datta-Ray, journalist and author, while discussing and commenting on the report agreed that editorials do indeed represent a newspaper’s authoritative stand. He was of the view that editorials of newspaper are not as legalistic or realistic as people deem it from outside. He shared his experience of how, unlike the promptness shown by the other major dailies in UK, The Guardian in 1969 wrote editorials on the Congress party’s split in India two days later simply because the only journalist knowledgeable on the subject and responsible for writing editorials on India went to sell his horse and was on leave. He also said that according to a report of the South Asia Analyst group, The Hindu has an official position on China. He drew attention to the fact that there were about 12 Chinese correspondents in Delhi whereas only three Indian correspondents are there in Beijing, still Indians publish a lot more on China. He said that in general there is ignorance about each other. Mr. Datta-Ray suggested there is a need for reading between the lines the actions of Chinese government.
Mr. Ashis Chakabarti, another journalist, agreed with Mr. Datta-Ray that editorials need not be taken that seriously. He said news have four chapters: truth, probabilities, possibilities and lies, the first one being the shortest. However, he admitted that living in the newspaper age, we cannot afford to ignore it altogether. He was also of the view that ignorance persist in both India and China about each other. As newspapers are not written from a vacuum, this ignorance permeates it as well. He suggested extending the present study to cover opinions as well as reports. He noted that it is possible that border issues shape negative perception but it is necessary to remember that information on such issues are ultimately sourced on the MEA or the army. In India, journalists often toe the foreign policy line when writing on any adversarial country like China.
The third discussant, Prof. Partha Pratim Basu of the Jadavpur University drew a parallel with his own work on media perception in the 1990s, and emphasised the refined research technique that has shaped the present report, making it a more sophisticated one. He also suggested that a study of news items should be included at some stage to make it a more holistic one. Talking about the fact that media perceptions cannot always be factually relied upon, he said that all text, media or otherwise, is at the end of the day a form of representation. Mr Basu opined that the present study could have extended its ambit beyond content analysis and undertaken discourse analysis as well. This would have facilitated a better understanding of the influence and role of media perceptions in relations between India and China. `He also stressed the expanding role of social media in today’s world. As a powerful tool of communication, it has given ample opportunity for the official position to be circulated with great assertion and contributed to the emergence of what is being labelled as ‘post-truth politics’.
This report is prepared by Swagata Saha, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata