– Nishant Kumar Azad
In a recent survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), 82 per cent of media persons believe that the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India by a section of the Western media is ‘biased’. A total of 69 per cent said India’s image took a beating by such negative coverage, while 56 per cent said such coverage must have negatively influenced the opinion of the Indians living abroad.
The survey titled ‘A Study of the Coverage of COVID-19 Pandemic in India by Western Media’ was conducted by the Outreach Department of IIMC in June 2021. The survey received 529 responses from Indian media persons who included journalists, media scholars and media educators. The survey included 64 per cent males and 36 per cent female respondents mainly from print, digital and broadcast media. A whopping majority of 60 per cent media persons believe that the Western media had an agenda of tarnishing the image of India when they covered the COVID-19 pandemic in India, while 71 per cent said the stories lacked a balanced narrative. The journalist respondents were mainly from print (97), digital (49), and broadcast (29) media, while about 29 of them worked in multiple media platforms. Maximum responses of the journalists were from those who worked with Hindi media (149), followed by English media (77), bilingual English-Hindi media (41), and Indian regional languages news organisations (35). There are responses from Urdu, Marathi and other languages also.
Director-General of IIMC Prof Sanjay Dwivedi pointed out that the study also tried to understand when the Western media campaign against India actually started. Maximum respondents, 38 per cent, believe that it began during the second wave when India was busy fighting the worst spell of the pandemic, while 25 per cent believe it started with the first wave itself. However, a significant number of media persons said that the negative campaign against India started after India announced successful trials of the COVID-19 vaccine (21 per cent) and after India started its ‘vaccine diplomacy’ (17 per cent).
The study also tried to know the possible reasons behind the Western media’s biased coverage of the pandemic in India. A total of 52 per cent blamed international politics for it, while 47 per cent cited internal politics in India, 34 per cent said the interest of pharma companies at the international level, and 21 per cent said regional politics of the Asian region was responsible for it.
An interesting fact that emerged during the study was that majority, 63 per cent of respondents, said they didn’t forward or share on social media the stories of Western media that maligned India’s image at the international level. A total of 54 per cent of respondents said they frequently followed global media’s coverage about India – of these, 22 per cent read international publications directly, while 33 per cent read such foreign media coverage when Indian media published them. Meanwhile, 36 per cent said they followed international media but not quite regularly. When asked how did they access these Western publications/media, they said they used multiple platforms but indicated their preferences as Google News suggestions (59 per cent), YouTube and Twitter (both 40 per cent), Facebook (34 per cent) and Instagram (27 per cent).
While leaders across the globe appreciated India the way it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and helped other nations through its “vaccine diplomacy”, a big section of the western media continuously portrayed it in a bad light.
India’s timely and proactive efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak have been appreciated globally, and the steps taken so far have set an example for the world at large.
UN chief Antonio Guterres voiced appreciation for India’s leadership in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its efforts to bring a “much-needed supply” of the COVID-19 vaccines to the world market. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also praised India for its efforts to fight against the novel coronavirus.