From the Viewsroom

The Sino-Indian ‘info war’

Venky Vembu | Updated on June 30, 2020

India has the more credible narrative, but it must avoid self-goals

Last week, India’s largest news agency, Press Trust of India, became an unlikely casualty of the Sino-Indian border stand-off in the Ladakh frontier after drawing ‘friendly fire’ from independent Indian commentators. The proximate ‘provocation’ was an interview that PTI had conducted with the Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, which covered the June 15 clash, and the broader bilateral relationship. The Chinese Embassy published three ‘soft-ball’ questions, as from the interview, and the Ambassador’s responses, and they predictably peddled the official Chinese line and blamed India for the border flare-up. PTI later claimed that the Q&A as published by the Embassy did not fully represent the inquisitorial nature of the interview. The PTI correspondent in Beijing also interviewed the Indian Ambassador to China, Vikram Misri, who channelled the Indian position.

It may seem that an ‘information balance’ has been restored between the versions put out by the two Ambassadors, but the truth is somewhat more complex. The Chinese Ambassador had been provided an Indian platform to address Indian audiences, and he used it to blame India; on the other hand, the Indian Ambassador was interviewed not by a Chinese media service, but by an Indian agency; his audience was not the Chinese people, but again, Indian media consumers. That manifestly provides China a double advantage: getting the official Chinese message to Indian audiences, without returning the favour to the Indian side.

This is emblematic of the broader difference between the two societies: one where information flow is state-controlled, and the other where an excess of media freedom abounds. And while it may seem that the Chinese side has the best of both worlds, and can leverage it to its advantage, its artless propaganda isn’t persuasive to anyone other than a captive home audience and client states. For all the cacophony that characterises the Indian media and the official line, it is India’s ‘information openness’ that helps it channel the more credible narrative. Now, if only it could give voice to it without scoring spectacular self-goals.

Published on July 01, 2020

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