|Volume 5 Issue 10| October 2011|
Globalization and Media:
The media should lead on promoting what is best for both countries SYED MUNIR KHASRU.
Global flow of media is concomitant with other globalized flows marked by increased flow of goods, services, capital, humans, and ideas across borders. Hence globalization of media is part of the integration of global experiences, values and practices. Media enables globalization in a number of ways. First of all, it ensures unfettered information flow across borders. Despite all efforts, the Syrian government has failed to suppress leaking of information of how it has been trying to brutally suppress the protesters. Secondly, globalization helps undermine nationally-controlled information regimes. No matter how hard the Mubarak regime tried to stymie the revolution by shutting off mobiles and internet and feeding only government controlled propaganda machines, tech savvy younger generation found ways to connect and spread the messages of defiance to the dictatorial regime. The more repressive the regime tried to be with the social media and cellular networks, the more fuller the Tahrir Square became with protestors.
The recent series of revelations by Wikileaks is an example of the helplessness of secretive regimes before the exposure of their actions to a global media. Thirdly, media plays an ever powerful role in shaping perception of people around the world. Inspite of India's basking under the sun for its robust economic growth and rising political power, a single incident of the Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, significantly and negatively affected people's perception on India as for more than a month the globalized media exposed the vulnerability of an elected government in the world's largest democracy in face of a determined social activist. Fourthly, Media reduces the lead time of global community's response to a crisis situation. Whether it is an earthquake in Japan, or a massacre in Norway, or a security alert in Heathrow airport, in a globalized world, media greatly empowers the ability of the international community to respond to any form of crisis in a manner and with a speed inconceivable even a decade ago. Finally, media helps share and spread universal values like transparency, accountability, and human rights. Today the Arab Spring is not only a Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, but also has led to sleepless nights for many of the despots in the Gulf region who have been enjoying unquestioned political domination spanning for decades.
An increasingly globalized and liberalized media also has its fair share of risk as well. In a world crisscrossed with diverse information flows, the world of media has become more polycentric with each media outlet with its own goals, policy, and interests. The recent uproar about telephone hacking by News of the World shows that media credibility walks on a tight rope and the spillover damage can be substantial when there is media ownership concentration. The big and growing Indian media is not free from this risk either. The recent so-called Nira Radia scandal revealed name of important journalists linked to a network of lobbying, which shows that in an open society the journalists have to think twice before peddling their influence for pushing parochial goals.
'Connectivity' has become a catchword in the context of globalization. In recent times, the focus of the socio-economic development strategy of Bangladesh has shifted to regional connectivity, especially in sectors such as trade, power and energy, infrastructure, security, etc. With India, which shares with Bangladesh almost the whole of the latter's land border, connectivity in all its senses, is inevitable. If this connectivity can be forged and nurtured in a friendly, equitable, and mutually benefiting manner, that can lead better exploitation of the untapped possibilities of the bilateral relations. The recent strengthening of relations between the two countries reflects such a positive and mutually beneficial direction. This article will analyze the challenges and potentials of the role of the media in further advancing the common issues to the advantage of both the countries in an era of globalization.
The Indian Media, despite some setbacks (such as a brief period of emergency, political interventions and repression, etc.) have been enjoying a freedom which is unparalleled in South Asia and which reflects the superior strength of India's democratic basis compared to its neighbors. The cases of exposure of corruption by powerful government personnel and the subsequent public discourse surrounding it could not have developed without considerable media freedom. The nineties saw the opening up of electronic media, a byproduct of liberalized economic policy, which made Indian television and other audiovisual entertainment products popular across borders and continents, reaching out to South Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America, and Africa. As of 2010, India has more than 500 TV Channels and the galloping economic growth of India only has added to its media acceptability.
The trajectory of Bangladesh and its media is not entirely similar. Path to achieving a parliamentary democracy and civil/political rights has been longer, jerkier with successive regimes imposing direct control over media. Nevertheless, in 1990s Bangladesh established a parliamentary democracy and expedited economic liberalization process. An explosion in the number of print and electronic media ensued. Development of media was positively correlated with enhanced public voice of an emerging civil society and intelligentsia more and more engaged in policy debates and dialogues. In the last two decades, despite the on and off political and non-political interventions, in the form of ownership control (especially in electronic media where rationing licenses can be a highly partisan process), cancellation of licenses, semi and subtle censorship etc. the media has not relented in exposing the corruption, inefficiency, and criminality of the powerful quarters of the society.
In terms of size, Indian media is incomparably larger than its Bangladeshi counterpart. While India has more than 2,000 daily newspapers including almost 950 English dailies, Bangladesh has only 101 daily newspapers including only around 20 English dailies, the rest being Bengali. Indian dailies have a circulation of around 8% of total Indian population while Bangladeshi dailies have a circulation of only around 2% of total national population. With the development of the internet, a new condition has emerged that pervasively affects people with a transnational dimension
If one looks at the comparative media freedom, a quick look at Reporters' without Borders' (RWB) Press Freedom Index and Freedom of Press Index by Freedom House reveals a noticeable trend.
In the former index by RWB, while the Indian media had a big gap indicating more freedom compared to Bangladesh, in recent years the gap is closing and Bangladesh has been catching up with its big neighbor. Also in the Freedom House Index, India always has been categorized as “Partly Free”, while Bangladesh has been labeled “Not Free” from 2002 to 2009. However, in 2010 Bangladesh also was categorized as Partly Free. These results show that Bangladeshi media have been getting a better, freer space for exercising investigative journalism. However, progress always has not been linear. Recently, a Draft Broadcast Policy has been on the table in Bangladesh seeking to restrict certain forms of broadcasting and publicizing by media which already has raised alarm in the press and media circle
Having discussed the comparative setting of Indian and Bangladeshi media, one can now look at the comparative coverage of bilateral relations in the print media of both the countries prior to the Indo-Bangla Summit that took place during September 6-7, 2011. To make this comparison, an indicative estimate has been made based on count of reports/ commentaries/ editorials covered in the English print media of Bangladeshi and Indian daily newspapers from June to mid September 2011. Based on general level of representation and degree of coverage, the Daily Star and The Financial Express was selected from Bangladesh and the Times of India, the Indian Express, the Statesman, and the Hindu were selected from India.
PHOTO: RYAN MCVAY/GETTY IMAGES
A look at the chart above reveals that Bangladeshi English print Media has covered more on the transit, water sharing, trade, and overall bilateral relationship, whereas the Indian English print Media has covered more on illegal migration, terrorism & insurgency issues. However, in looking at the Bengali dailies of India such as Ananda Bazar, a higher level of overall coverage has happened, although apportioning of coverage to different areas have been different from Bangladeshi Bengali newspapers such as Prothom Alo. What is interesting to note is that the coverage of the Indian print media is heavily skewed towards two issues very important to India Terrorism and Migration. Other issues, including something as hotly debated as Transit, has received much less exposure in the Indian media. From that perspective, the Bangladeshi media has done a more balanced job in terms of types and extent of coverage. However, the Indian media has been quite vocal and critical of the Indian government on some of the unmet expectations surrounding Dr. Singh's visit which reflects a positive and healthy trend towards fair and unbiased journalism across border. There also are differences in how the two governments have interacted with their respective media, especially during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was quite obvious that the Indian media received more official cooperation from their government compared to their Bangladeshi counterparts.
PHOTO: RYAN MCVAY/GETTY IMAGES
There are four main challenges facing the role of media in Indo-Bangladesh relations. Firstly, the media of the two countries are in an inherently asymmetric relationship, with Indian media being inordinately larger in terms of its size, circulation, and global reach. Secondly, while Indian media items are flowing seamlessly to Bangladesh, the reverse is not the case. Bangladeshi media deserves a better and fairer access to its giant neighbor and a largely unexploited market. Thirdly, the advantage of Indian media through greater acceptability of Indian cultural products in Bangladesh has not essentially helped in the initiation of moves leading to a borderless regional ideology. Political differences and distrust have not echoed the cultural harmony and Indian media has a bigger and more positive role to play here. Finally, over-sensitization as well as desensitization by the media has not positively contributed towards peace, prosperity, and cooperation in the Indo-Bangla relations. In 2001, during the Raumari border clash between BDR and BSF, the picture of a killed BSF jawan got disproportionate negative media coverage in both the countries leading to corrosive political rhetoric from both sides of the aisle and the worst point in cross border relations between India and Bangladesh. Playing to the gallery may help the media foment nationalistic fervor but certainly does not contribute in either calming regional tension or improving bilateral relations.
Nevertheless, there have been some positive developments in recent times. During and after the visit of Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Singh as well as the Chief Ministers of five Indian states have promised that Bangladeshi television channels will be allowed to broadcast in India. There will also be broadcasting of BTV and Durdarshan to both countries. Social media like facebook also have opened up opportunity for horizontal cultural communication between Bangladeshi and Indians without the need for any mediation by centralized agencies such as government or big media. For strengthening relationship between Bangladesh and India, media of both countries have to leave the historical adversarial attitude of the state and instead play a catalytic role to mobilize public opinion for more cooperation and openness for a win-win Indo-Bangla relations. Cooperation and interaction between the civil societies of the two countries can empower the media to play an even more effective role in boosting the people-to-people contacts between the countries. This in turn can have a positive effect in shaping public opinion in favor of a more cooperative and friendly relations between these two important South Asian neighbors.
No matter what kind of political leadership each country has or the red tapism the bureaucracy in both the countries practices, in this era of globalization, media in both India and Bangladesh have to carve out a distinct, powerful, and positive role for fostering the bilateral relations. If the Times of India and Jang Group of Pakistan could have taken the courageous move in improving the ever strained Indo-Pak relations through the recently launched Aman Ki Asha Movement, friendly relations between Bangladesh and India deserve much better and more pro-active role from their media to compel the politicians and bureaucrats to come out o their antiquated mindset of distrust and apprehension. People of both the countries deserve much better than that and let the media take the lead.
The Author is a Professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. The article is from a paper he presented during a recently held Post Summit Conference on Indo-Bangla Relations
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