Journalism takes the centre stage in Sino-Indian relations as it builds narratives, perceptions and a repertoire of political attitudes that can recreate, reshape and reprocess the original information that journalism disseminates. This becomes even more challenging when the audience is a few billion people - considering China and India together - and their consumption of information is not just restricted to the conventional legacy media but also vibrant social media in the digital space.
The United Nations recognises 193 countries and two non-member observer states, making it a total of 195 countries in the world, with a total population of 7.7 billion people, which is expected to increase by 2 billion in the next thirty years. Sixty-one per cent of the world’s population lives in a single continent, Asia, which is host to 4.7 billion people. Of the 49 countries in Asia today, China and India together host over 2.8 billion people, which is more than half the population of Asia, the rest being hosted by the other 47 countries.
By the end of this decade, India is set to become the world’s most populous country, overtaking China. The two Asian giants, which are also two civilisation states, not only have a combined population that accounts for one-third of humanity on the planet, but they are also two nuclear-powered neighbours who have had deep-rooted economic and cultural ties for thousands of years until 1962 when the legacy of a short brutal war added suspicion, lack of confidence and insecurity to the India-China relationship.
It is important to note that since the beginning of the 20th century, the world had witnessed conflict every year for very short periods of time which remained free from violence. Since 1900, an estimated 187 million people died in conflicts such as the two world wars, civil wars, wars of independence, partitions, emergencies, revolts, confrontations, conflicts and even global coalitions to defeat radical extremist groups. The 1962 China-India war (which China had won) resulted in the death of 722 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers and 1383 Indian soldiers, with over a thousand soldiers wounded on either side. That history can only be regretted but not reversed.
The media landscape in the world’s largest democracy India, presently governed by the world’s largest political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is distinctly different from that in China which is solely ruled by the world’s second-largest political party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). With over 915 satellite television channels, 144,000 registered newspapers and periodicals, and a continuously growing digital media market (revenue in the global digital media market is projected to reach USD 520.00 billion in 2023), the Indian media and entertainment industry (revenue in the Indian digital media market is projected to reach USD 5.95 billion in 2023), is projected to reach USD 100 billion by 2030.
In comparison, China's entertainment and media market valued at USD 422 billion is projected to expand by a compound annual growth rate of 5.6 per cent until 2026. These numbers tell a story that journalists and the academic world around journalism studies cannot ignore. The data not only reflects the immense potential and promise that media landscapes in India and China have within, but it also signals caution that a story wrongly told and disseminated can cause havoc. Beyond the dependence on and the outreach of legacy media, there are 'new countries with new people' that are emerging in the digital space inside and beyond the geographical land borders of India and China. Similar trends are also observed elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. This incredible mix of potential, promise and caution poses a colossal challenge, particularly to journalism in action, and generally to the media landscapes.
Conflict and climate change are two of the biggest challenges that the world is grappling with and there is no end in sight to reaching any prescribed solution in the near future. In such an existing global threat, communication emerges as one of the key areas to help facilitate less friction and more reason and order to enable the minimization of conflict and the maximization of global cooperation to address climate change. Since the India-China border clashes in Ladakh's Galwan Valley in June 2020, the first deadly clash between the two countries in the Himalayan border area in at least 45 years, the Sino-Indian relationship has been "very difficult" (as mentioned by India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar) and every effort should be taken to deepen mutual understanding to avoid "miscalculation and misunderstanding" (as mentioned by the outgoing Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong). A recent tweet from Dr S Jaishankar, after his meeting with Ambassador Weidong, read, "The normalisation of India-China relations is in the interest of both countries, of Asia and the world at large".
Journalism in India and China are characteristically different and while journalism in China is perennially held hostage to censorship and mostly labelled as the propaganda of the state, journalism in India suffers from a 'problem of plenty' where disinformation and misinformation often tend to overshadow facts. Apart from the concerns of fake news (which is also a global concern), media narratives often tend to drift towards hypernationalism and when that gets compounded with the menace of fake news, journalism is held hostage differently. What does a journalist do in such a crisis? While there may not be any specific singular formula to address such a complex question, journalism can consider empathy, historical background, context and farsightedness apart from its core tenets of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity while reporting stories of conflict or stories that are contentious. While the cardinal principle is to get the facts right, it also becomes vital to ensure that the conflict is not further exacerbated. Easier said than done, but surely something that is becoming a major concern in responsible, credible and accountable newsrooms.
Points of convergence
Journalism practices must acknowledge that the relations between the two nuclear-powered neighbors, India and China, need to be examined through a prism that demands a cognition, acceptance and conformation of the history and legacy that remain embedded within the fabric of the conscience of these two nations. Apart from being two civilization states who have co-existed in peace for thousands of years, the legacy of cultural and economic ties should not allow the legacy of the 1962 war to overshadow the otherwise stable and normal coexistence. As a starting point in recent history, journalists can go back to 1924 and understand the events that brought the two nations closer, when Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore visited China. Although Tagore’s visit was not as rosy as one could have imagined, it did not create any crevice; rather it did bring creative minds in either country closer to each other. In the 1950s, the interactions between Chinese President Mao Zedong and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were of mutual respect and admiration.
If the regrettable 1962 war (when India was caught unaware of the military might of China) can be kept carefully aside without forgetting its legacy, journalism practices can focus on various points of convergence between the two nations for normalization. One such point of focus can surely be Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 2003 landmark state visit which resulted in the signing of eleven pacts to improve political, economic and social relations between the two countries. The Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation, signed during that visit stated, " The common interests of the two sides outweigh their differences. The two countries are not a threat to each other. Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other."
Journalism takes the centre stage in Sino-Indian relations as it builds narratives, perceptions and a repertoire of political attitudes that can recreate, reshape and reprocess the original information that journalism disseminates. This becomes even more challenging when the audience is a few billion people - considering China and India together - and their consumption of information is not just restricted to the conventional legacy media but also vibrant social media in the digital space. Public opinion formation can be positively and negatively affected by such news consumption sources and that may lead to fraudulent perceptions and perception paralysis.
Therefore, it becomes imperative that journalism travels beyond the optics, riding on knowledge, historical backgrounds and contexts, thereby producing stories that not only inform and/or entertain but also educate, which is something, every budding journalist has to learn on day one. To what extent journalism can educate and with what outreach is an ongoing experiment. As long as India-China mutual cooperation is strengthened and the promotion of peace, stability and global development is taken care of, journalism will continue to be in action, with its head held high.
(The author, a journalist-turned-interdisciplinary academic with over 18 years of experience in broadcast and digital media and research across Asia and Europe, is a Ph.D. scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University. He has been the producer of BBC’s flagship talkshow HARDtalk. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com).