Decoding the Bias

The cover page of ‘The Wall Street Journal’ , Screen shots of the websites of ‘BBC’ and ‘New York Times’ after the abrogation of Article 370

While the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 will be judged in both near and distant future, its reaction in the Western media has been despondent and biased

Avatans Kumar
Traditionally, the Western media as the beacon of the free democratic world has been known for its freedom and objectivity. This reputation, however, has come under increasing strain in the recent past and it is nowhere more visible than in its coverage of news related to India in general and Hindus in particular. The coverage of Kashmir in Western media in light of the new developments is not an exception.
It is generally believed that the foreign news coverage in a country, by and large, tends to follow the foreign policy of the home country. Domestic media, in general, also give significant coverage to those foreign news where its political, military and economic interest lie. But in the case of covering Kashmir issue, the Western media doesn’t seem to be guided by such principles.
The coverage we are talking about is the August 5 announcement of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that it is going to do away with the provisions of the Article 370 of Indian Constitution which granted the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir a special status. The announcement also created two separate union territories of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and Ladakh out of state of J&K.
A constitutional provision that was supposed to be “temporary and transitional” lasted over 65 years. While the impact of this move will be judged in both near and distant future, the reaction in the Western media was despondent and biased to say the least. For example, ‘The New York Times’ (NYT) declared that with the recent Kashmir move of the Indian government has converted “the people of Kashmir to second-class citizens, if not subjects”. “Locked up and shut down: How India has silenced opposition to its crackdown in Kashmir”, read the headline in ‘The Washington Post’. Whereas the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) circulated a ‘fake’ video of Kashmir ‘protest’ and ‘police atrocities’. The ‘USA Today’, on the other hand, screeched “Indian troops invade Kashmir, Pakistan warned of war”.
A cursory look at the nature of the coverage of the recent news on India in Western media will reveal its Hinduphobic anti-India bias. It also points to a lack of awareness among journalists, commentators, and analysts about the issue involving Kashmir. The role of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI’s funding (i.e, Ghulam Nabi Fai’s network) of propaganda war in the US is known to most India watchers. In addition, most media commentators are leftist ‘South Asian’ experts with scant regards to Indian point of view.

The Western media narrative on Kashmir ignores the aspirations of the non-Muslims, women, and Dalits who have suffered the most. The change also means that the citizens of now two states will enjoy the full protection and the benefits of the Indian Constitution

The anti-India nature of the Western press coverage of Indian news is well documented. US based media scholar Vamsee Juluri analyzed NYT’s coverage of the Pulwama terrorist attack and its aftermath. He studied headlines of over two dozen stories in NYT in a 3-week period starting February 15, 2019. The headlines seemed to be presenting India as an “aggressive (and inept) actor in the conflict in comparison to Pakistan which has fortitude, character”.
Juluri also noticed that reports rarely mentioned the fact that despite being a ‘Muslim majority’ state, Kashmir has a significant non-Muslim population as well. Additionally, reports also excluded information about mass exodus and mass murder of Kashmiri Hindus by the Jihadis proxies of Pakistan in the 1990s.
On the other hand, Washington Post showed its anti-Hindu bias in it’s coverage of ‘hate crimes’ in India. Journalist Swati Goyal Sharma of ‘The Swarajya’ studied Washington Post’s primary source of data for six month. She clinically exposed how it used the faulty and poorly researched data to build the narrative on rising communal (read anti-Muslim) violence in India.
The Western media’s coverage of Kashmir fails to recognise the civilisational aspect of the Kashmir story. Kashmir, unlike Pakistan is not a British creation and did not just spring up on the world map in 1947. Kashmir is central to Indic civilisation and has been such for thousands of years.
The Western media narrative on Kashmir also ignores the aspirations of the non-Muslims, women, and Dalits. Ladakhi Buddhists, for example, have for long resented the valley-centric politics of the erstwhile state. The creation of the new union territory means that Ladakh will now be administered by the central government and will no longer pander to the whims of the corrupt dynastic valley politicians.
The change also means that the citizens of the now two states will enjoy the full protection and the benefits of the Indian Constitution. The benefits of government reservation, Right to Education, property rights to Kashmiri women, etc., will now be extended and available to all J&K and Ladakhi citizens, something that was not possible under previous arrangement.
The new arrangement also ensures that the rights of the minorities are protected in the state of J&K and Ladakh. The Constitution of the only Muslim-majority state of the Union of India did not even have the ‘minorities’ mentioned in it. Now the minorities in this region of India will have the same constitutionally guaranteed ‘minority rights’ as the rest of India.
The Indian diaspora around the world has largely welcomed the move of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s decision to do away with the provisions of the Article 370. Most, however, have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the portrayal of Kashmir in the Western media. “In addition to blatantly biased, the best term to describe the majority of the US media is ‘lazy’. They haven’t even bothered to read up on the facts and history limiting themselves to simply parroting the lines of the Left-Liberal media sympathetic to the Islamic version of history,” says Atulya Tankha, a US-based Kashmiri Hindu.
Media plays a critical role in forming public opinion in a free democratic society. It is for this reason that the understanding of how foreign media covers news related to India is important. However, looking at the recent news cycles involving India, it can be easily concluded that the role for foreign media in this regard has been less than desirable and it needs to be called out.
(The writer is JNU and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus. He frequently writes in several media outlets on the topics of Indic Knowledge Tradition, Language, Culture, and Current Affairs. He is based in the US)