It was the writer and activist Arundhati Roy who set foreign journalists in India busily chattering recently. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, Ms Roy was discussing the Maoist and Adavasi “resistance” to encroachment on tribal lands. Mr Moss, asked her why, “we in the West don’t hear about these mini-wars?”. Ms Roy replied: “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.”
Mr Moss’s response was: “I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, [Thanks Stephen, that's very decent of you.] but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.”
I’ve been thinking about what both of them said, and discussing the matter with some colleagues based in India. I’ve never received a “no bad news” order from London and the colleagues I spoke with insisted that neither had they. Several things struck me:
In the last decade or so India has certainly been successful in re-branding its international image. Where once it was seen as a hopeless, overwhelmingly poor country, there has instead been focus on a newly aspirational middle-class and economic progress, the new “Shining India”. As a result, there are fewer stories about malnutrition (which still haunts huge numbers of Indians) but more about new airlines, coffee shops, call centres, the World Is Flat, eight per cent growth and the attendant changing structure of society, especially in urban India. Though things have probably shifted too much, the change in focus is understandable enough; the media is always looking for something new, something different, to report on. I also think that in India – as elsewhere in the world – the priorities of Western corporations sometimes find their way into the news agenda; every month or so, some article will ask when India will finally allow the likes of Wal-Mart and Tesco to operate here.
Since writing this, I’ve been contacted by a colleague who said they cannot interest their “editors in anything but stories of shiny new India”. When this person “pitches stories on issues of poverty, development, or those being left out of the Great Indian Miracle”, they are told it’s “old news”. The appetite of their desk is entirely for stories of growth and positive change.Andrew Buncombe in The Independent. Here
This journalist says they did not speak to Ms Roy. Furthermore, this journalist said they had been told by a colleague who works for another international publication of an “identical problem”. The correspondent said their colleague was told by their desk: “Report the news. It is not news that there are poor people in India.”