‘Are we reporting or settling an old colonial account?’
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 5, 2002
Introduction: French journalist’s open letter against foreign media’s anti- India bias
Correspondent Dow Jones
Francois Gautier, Correspondent, Ouest-France
Apropos your letter which you have circulated to all the members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, in which you wrote: “I think it’s important the FCC puts out a statement on recent moves by the Government to go after journalists it apparently doesn’t like.”
I wonder if you would send such a haughty message if you were in China, for instance, where you would risk being immediately kicked out, or even spend a few weeks in jail. You go on to declare: “Firstly, there’s the Kashmir Times reporter Iftekhar Geelani who is in jail; the harassment of Alex Perry by the FRRO for writing an article unfavourable to the Government; and now a raid on Tehelka. As a pattern, it’s bad news and I think we should strongly say that such actions are inimical to a free and fair Press.”
Ed, pardon me for saying so, but when you speak openly in such a manner, it is as if you think that you are in a conquered country, or that India is still under White colonial rule: “Who is this arrogant Indian Government to tell us, mighty Western journalists, what to write or not to write!” But any Government in the world clamps down on who it considers anti-national elements within its territorial boundaries.
The US itself goes to the extent of invading Panama, when it considers its interests threatened there, to bomb Yugoslavia, because it did not like its President, or to take over Afghanistan, where it is definitely going to burn its fingers. And why should not the Indian Government take action against a man suspected of channelling funds used against India’s national interests?
You are claiming freedom of the press, but in this country, we, Western journalists, have always been free to criticise, belittle, slander even, without any fear of reprisal. And God knows how much we have come down hard on the BJP, RSS, or VHP in these last few years, using adjectives totally out of place, which do not honour our sense of equity, such as “fundamentalists,” “fanatical,” “Right-wing,” “nationalists,” even “Nazis.” Did the BJP, the VHP, or the RSS (a harmless group if there ever was one), kill six million Jews like Hitler? On the contrary, Hindus have been – and are still in Kashmir – the target of an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the history of this sad world. Do you think that in France, or in the US, an exclusive club of only Indian journalists, Hindus even, would be allowed to function like a kingdom within a kingdom, with the freedom to criticise and support movements which are inimical to French or US national interests? Do you believe that these Indians could castigate the French or American President, as Time magazine did recently? I don’t think so.
In fact, I remember when French President Pompidour was dying of cancer while still in office – and it was an open secret – the Press kept quiet about it as a matter of decency. And how your own media was kind to Ronald Reagan, a man not particularly known for his intelligence, and who kept making one fumbling mistake after another when it came to foreign policy. How is it that we Western correspondents are so tolerant with our own faults, but come down so hard on this Government, which has to deal with problems which are several times more complicated than in our own countries? And why is it that we Westerners do so much business with Communist China, a Government which has so much blood on its hand, and that includes one million Tibetans killed in the last 50 years? Three million of the Chinese people were liquidated by Mao.
The history of Western coverage of India has been one of biased and unfair reporting. Look at Kashmir, for instance. We have been writing and broadcasting relentlessly in the last 13 years that “India accuses Pakistan of training, arming, financing and sheltering Indian Kashmiri separatists, a fact which Islamabad denies,” implying that the Indian Government is lying, knowing fully well after all these years that logically it had to be true.
But no, in the name of the so-called “impartial reporting,” the BBC, CNN, AFP, Reuters and others, who have an old colonial account to settle with India, kept on mouthing these untruths.
Now General Musharraf has publicly acknowledged the fact under American pressure. But has any one of us apologised to the Indian Government for having slandered it for 15 years? No way: We are too arrogant and conceited to recognise our own mistakes. Why don’t we say the truth: That our editors in Paris, Washington or Bonn always expect the same stories from us, stories that show India in derogatory light, a Third World, corrupt, fundamentalist country, because they think that it is the only way to sell India to their readers?
Indeed, isn’t it a fact for many of us that the harder we hit India, the more we are successful with our foreign editors?
I know India is not an easy country for a westerner and now and then I am as frustrated as you, dear Ed. The heat, the slowness of everything, the bureaucratic hassles, the intellectual servility of Hindus sometimes, who must blame themselves for most of their ills, including the lack of respect they get from us, Western correspondents.
But it is also my living experience in 33 years here that India is pro-West, a bastion of freedom in an Asia represented by Muslim fundamentalism and Chinese hegemonic tendencies. Why don’t we say this also? Talking of journalistic objectivity, it is also our duty to highlight the greatness that India represents with its spiritual resonance. We need not be blind to India’s shortcomings, particularly when we have enough reasons to express the hope that India represents for mankind.