We have spoken about how geography changes the news and how it tells a lot about the relative importance of issues when the same matter gets coverage in different countries. In this blog dated 10th June, we had highlighted important differences in how the ongoing India-China standoff on boundary disputes in Ladakh is being covered by the Chinese and the Indian media. The Indian media has been promptly highlighting the ‘Chinese aggression’ for a while and in comparison, the Chinese media had virtually ignored the conflict.
So effectively there are two dimensions on how an issue gets coverage in news, a) the local language vs. English in the same geography (for example, the English and Hindi news coverage in India or English and Mandarin news coverage in China), b) the other is how Indian news is looking at an issue and how much prominence the same issue gets in China. The news captured under both these dimensions is so different that Sentiment Analysis offers completely different results. The same phenomenon is being seen in how Indian and Chinese media reported the deadly clash at Galwan Valley a couple of days ago.
When we see the coverage, China also admits casualties, but its media plays down the worst clash in decades, while Indian newspapers and TV channels urge a push back. The newspaper ‘Indian Express’ wrote that the government should display ‘steely resolve’ in its response over Ladakh clash. The Indian media has also highlighted the number of casualties for Chinese Army after the Indian army said 20 of its soldiers had been killed in a “violent face-off” along the Himalayan frontier. Especially the Indian TV channels are more aggressive in building up the support for a strong action against China.
While it is difficult to form an objective view in such matters, there are two major factors in how the situation could become more complicated and difficult to resolve without further damage, a) too much of prominent coverage and mass hysteria makes it more difficult for leaders to arrive at a middle path and leave the ‘hard line’, b) the reporting on number of casualties on both sides makes it a race for both the countries on projecting who has been damaged more. Overall, the fact is that too much of aggression shown by media has been damaging for both the Government and the soldiers on both sides.
There are also some massive inconsistencies which can be noticed in the reasons behind why media will be keen to escalate the contentious issues. For example, look at the following figure. It is the site of one of the most widely circulated Hindi newspapers (the language spoken by maximum number of people in India, it is more than any other language). The area in black rectangle has two news items. One is talking about how people damaged Chinese TV sets after the recent conflict and the other is an advertisement for a Chinese mobile phone. This should be seen in the wider context of a call for boycott of Chinese goods in India. There are practical considerations why this can’t be implemented. But that doesn’t stop this “call for boycott of Chinese goods” from being widely circulated on social media and news channels.
Fig. 1: Screenshot of Navbharat Times (Times of India Group) at 16:45 IST, 17th June
In any situation, it is possible to argue that media only reflects the public opinion. But these are sensitive situations and media has a role in shaping the popular discourse. On both the sides, it has to play responsibly and the responsible people can’t be short sighted about picking up an unnecessary and avoidable conflict. This is immensely important for almost 40% of humanity which resides in these two neighboring nations. It will be much more prudent if a calm response from both India and China determines the course of conflict than pure media coverage.
EM Alpha LLC
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