Be It Farmers Protest, Covid Deaths or Vaccine Drive, Global Media’s Shrill Headlines Fail the Credibility Test

·8-min read

“Angry farmers storm India’s Red Fort in challenge to Modi,” screamsThe Washington Post. A ‘challenge’? Is that the word we should be looking for? What is it called when a group of people storm a place in order to challenge a legitimately elected government? The Washington Post knows it well. They just used the term ‘insurrection’ for what happened at the US Capitol on January 6. They even had a scholarly debate of sorts on whether the storming of Capitol Hill should be called an attempted coup or an insurrection. But when it came to the storming of India’s Red Fort, The Washington Post held their fire. They even followed it up with an opinion piece on ‘Why Modi won’t listen to India’s farmers’.

That’s the privileged Western gaze. When it comes to the so-called third world, they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of any government. All votes are not created equal. Their democracy is sacred, ours is not.

From the pandemic to the storming of India’s Red Fort, the privileged Western gaze has been a feature of almost all reporting about India in global media. And like any good old-fashioned prejudice, they appear determined to stand by it to the bitter end. They are willing to remain ignorant, lose their own credibility and ignore the plight of common people in their own country.

An attempt to demonise India

Last week, Joe Biden, the newly inaugurated President of the United States, addressed his nation with the words: “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” He went on to add that 400,000 Americans had died so far from Covid-19 and the death toll was likely to go past 600,000.

These grim words from the President barely registered in the consciousness of the American media. Over at The New York Times, they did a deep dive into the positive symbolism of Biden’s designer suit, his Rolex watch and everything else. Then, they repeated this analysis for everyone who took oath at the ceremony and whoever came with them. What about the fact that 200,000 Americans are expected to die of Covid-19 in the next few months? Not just in America, all of Western media swept it under the carpet, as if it were nothing.

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This cavalier attitude of the Western media (which often doubles up as ‘global’ media) raises several questions. For over a year now, these publications have second-guessed, heckled and ridiculed every aspect of India’s coronavirus fight. If the President of the world’s richest and most powerful nation can write off 200,000 additional Covid deaths just like that, what explains the tone they took with India? Recently, Forbes spoke to 35 “experts” on India’s response to the pandemic. None of them appeared to have a good word to say about our government.

This, despite the fact that while our system was stretched, it never collapsed. Death counts stayed low in proportion to population. The economy bounced back sharply after the lockdown and India is now predicted to be the fastest growing economy in 2021. At the same time, India developed a vaccine on its own. As of now, we are not just running the world’s biggest vaccination programme, we are also churning out vaccines for the whole world. And, providing the vaccine for free to less-developed neighbours.

Forget a word of appreciation for our efforts and our large heart. The global media doesn’t just criticize us; they actively demonize us. They now say India is using the pandemic to squeeze people in Kashmir.

Let us quickly recap. First, they said India is not testing enough. When India began testing on a scale unmatched anywhere in the world, they said we were still behind, doing too few tests per million. But they reported cases and deaths in total numbers and not as a proportion of population. This always made India appear among the worst-affected in the world.

Running down vaccination drive

Then, there was the lockdown. The economic misery that came with it, the sharp GDP drop, were all covered in gory detail. When the lockdown was being lifted, they said it was too early. The New York Times came up with the sharp headline that India’s pandemic was now the fastest growing in the world. But cases slowed soon after. Within weeks, there was a second wave in most European countries and their case numbers began growing at a much faster rate than ours. Did The New York Times put out a hostile headline about that? Of course not.

The BBC decided to put boots on the ground. In April 2020, they went ‘reporting’ in Mumbai and other cities to collect anecdotal evidence that India was under-counting both cases and deaths. Clearly, the BBC could not understand that with India’s massive population, there is no way for it to systematically under-count deaths and get away with it. Otherwise, with a curve that grows exponentially, the streets would be full of dead bodies in no time.

Meanwhile, medical staff in Europe and the US were reduced to wearing garbage bags in place of PPE kits, New York had to dig trenches for mass burials, but the BBC had its eyes only on India. Also, trust the BBC to bring the religion angle into how the poor in a country fared during the pandemic.

“The spirit of generosity is firmly hardwired into Pakistan’s DNA. .... Furthermore, according to Rizwan Hussain, author of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, “Pakistan is the only country to have been established in the name of Islam,” and this devout spirituality is reflected in its laws.”

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But India continued to soldier on. The economy began showing signs of revival. The Q2 GDP data showed clearly that the worst was over. The cash transfers to the poorest were small, but along with foodgrain distribution, just enough to help them tide over the crisis. We achieved this with a digital payment and distribution network that reaches even the last person in line. And India emerged from the worst of the crisis without breaking government finances.

Finally, the vaccine. The global media has fully tried to run down both India’s vaccines and vaccination programme. They could have served the cause of humanity much better by investigating how the Chinese government hid the pandemic in the first days and plunged the world into crisis. But their focus remains on the soft-target democracy, which produces vaccines for the whole world.

On March 13 last year, the UK-based newspaper The Independentpublished an alarming headline about the “horror story of virus mismanagement” in India. They were reporting on India’s first confirmed Covid death. At that time, the death toll in India stood at one while countries such as Italy were averaging over a hundred deaths each day. You can’t miss the barely concealed, morbid undertone in the headline. Why aren’t more Indians dying?

An out-of-touch group?

Ironically, the Western media and their editors, who are all fluent in the language of global liberalism, should have been the first to recognize this phenomenon for what it is: privilege. Or racism, if you want to put it more crudely. As a country of brown people, we are treated as permanently suspect. All our faults are magnified to an extreme degree. They give a wide berth to themselves, but not to us. And if India seems to be doing better than expected, they get obsessed with trashing us.

This is sad. I do not know of any Indian who ever wishes death and destruction on any Western country. We mourn when they suffer natural disasters or terrorist attacks. We see them as friendly democracies. Why is it so hard for the media in Western countries to return the favour?

We could have been bitter and resentful about the colonial past. We choose not to.

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Now, it may feel like I am pouring out a sense of hurt and anguish at a biased global media that refuses to give us our due. Partly, yes. But I am also doing them a favour. I am telling them that the only way they can save their credibility is by getting rid of their prejudice against India.

Because reality waits for nobody, least of all a group of people who are out of touch, hopelessly stuck with a 19th century colonial worldview. Recently, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development tweeted that India and China were the only major economies to see FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) growth in 2020. FDI into China grew by 4 per cent while it grew by 13 per cent for India, year-on-year, which is the highest in the world. Investors who have real skin in the game are voting with their dollars. And they have started to ignore what the ‘global’ media says about India. The ‘global’ media can either mend their ways or become a laughing stock. The choice is theirs.

The writer is a mathematician, columnist and author. Views expressed are personal.