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What’s Ailing Foreign Media in India?

What’s Ailing Foreign Media in India?

Is it lack of press freedom? Or, limited skills sets to report from a large, diverse country like Bharat that has bowled them over?


Why’s it that global media operating in Bharat is acerbic? Being bitter or sour on substantive work issues is understandable given that Bharat may look complex for many of them.

For those who are first timers in Bharat, understanding this country may not be easy at all. Sensitivities, socio-economic matrix, clutch of movements, political ideologies across 28 states and eight union territories, might virtually stump even the hardnosed journalists with experience.

Many news organizations internationally have made it a point to have bases in Bharat given her growing clout on global forums, strong and consistent growth showing and soft power clout that she enjoys.

From G-20, BRICS to WTO, banks and financial institutions, there’s no significant global project in which Bharat goes unrepresented or her indulgence is sought.

Given the potential for Bharat to emerge as third largest economic powerhouse in a couple of years during possible third five-year term of Prime Minister Modi and huge appetite to know more about developments in this country has made it mandatory for top media companies to have offices and representatives here.

From early ‘90s, especially when Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister kicked off economic reforms Bharat began its arduous journey to reconnect with the world in her own unique way. It’s only now that Bharat is asserting and carving out niche space for herself. In these last 30-odd years, several global media houses either sent their correspondents here or opened full news bureaus here. Some have had multiple teams like British Broadcasting Corporation that even began offering news packages in Indian languages.

Television, digital media and radio networks apart from print newspapers from all continents have had their presence before and after economic reforms were rolled out. Capturing trends in a nation on the move has had become an inevitability for media outlets.

From CNN, Fox to ABC, you name the news outlet and it has been represented in this country. Similar is the case with top four news agencies and beyond. Both European and the US media houses have over the years’ evolved content sharing arrangements with Bharatiya counterparts. Most foreign media companies editorial policies may have been driven or influenced by their Indian partners.

Also, top Bharat bred journalists have had anchored news operations for top notch media brands internationally. Given the globe-trotting nature of Bharatiya professionals, several of our big names helm news outlets internationally.

In this backdrop, a couple of foreign media professionals leaving Bharat due to circumstances ‘beyond normal’ have kicked up a debate in the community. Avani Dias, South Asia Bureau Chief of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) exit for personal reasons has been twisted to say that it was due to ‘undue pressure’ from Indian government.

French journalist Vanessa Dougnac’s departure a few months back also hit front pages in Bharat and France. In both these cases, facts are diametrically opposite to what appeared in the news networks.

A new assignment at ‘Four Corners’ clinched in June 2023 and a wedding in December 2023 were reported by ‘Australia Today’ as prime reasons for Avani Dias to return to Australia. Reported violation of journalists work visa conditions led to exit of French journalist Vanessa Dougnac. Interestingly enough, both claimed that ‘there was no press freedom in India’ or it was ‘very difficult’ to function as a newsperson in Bharat.

Well, if that was true, how’s it that hundreds of news stories are routinely despatched by foreign media outlets each day from Bharat? How’s it that dozens of foreign journalists made Bharat their second home though they came here due to professional assignments?

Is it even possible to control well diversified and organized media industry in this country? In one of the public speeches, 88-year old BBC veteran Mark Tully lamented that ‘developments in India’ were not properly reported. After all, Tully has a point.

Can any government or political formation worth its salt even entertain the idea of manipulating over 146,000 newspapers and periodicals with combined 270 million copies published in dozens of languages? Would anyone even imagine seeking control on hundreds of TV channels broadcast in dozens of languages?

If Indian newspapers, magazines, TV networks and digital platforms cannot be ‘controlled’ or ‘suppressed’ per se, can one even think of driving out foreign journalist professionals after having exerted  ‘undue pressure’ as claimed by a few?

Thumb rule is to not violate laws of the land including foreign journalist visa conditions. Is asking foreign media companies to make corporate disclosures same as curbing press freedom? Has the Indian government committed a grievous crime of sorts in expecting European and US media companies to comply with taxation rules and pay taxes commensurate with profits sans evasion?

Beginning with BBC tax surveys, foreign journalists exit to charges on press freedom, has something seriously gone wrong with international media? Have they lost it all together?

Or, is it the colonial mind-set that drives a few foreign journalists’ cheap theatrics? Should Bharat revisit its whole policy on foreign media engagement as companies, joint ventures, representative offices and sending news professionals?

What’s ailing the foreign media in Bharat? It is a billion dollar question!

(Author is Director & Chief Executive of New Delhi based non-partisan think tank, Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies)

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