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The Role of Media in Strengthening Nepal-India Relations

  • Geopolitics
  • 4 Months ago
  • 4 min read
The Role of Media in Strengthening Nepal-India Relations

Credits: Nepal News Industry

Kamal Dev Bhattarai
Kamal Dev Bhattarai - Editor of The Annapurna Express, Kathmandu-based newspaper

Media significantly influences the conduct and shaping of foreign policy in any country. Media content affects all aspects of the relationship between the media and public opinion. In both domestic and foreign policy, public opinion is a primary driver that influences the decisions of political parties and the government of the day. Therefore, how the media frames bilateral issues immensely affects the trajectory of bilateral relations.

When it comes to Nepal-India relations, there has not been much discussion among the media fraternity and academicians about the role that the media is playing or how the media is framing bilateral issues. 

Nepal-India’s relations are characterized by an open border, people-to-people ties, strong civilizational connections, and economic and political ties. This relationship is undoubtedly one of the unique relationships in the world and does not match any other relationship. There are no visa provisions for travel, and there are no restrictions on traveling and leaving each other’s countries. This uniqueness and closeness has made the bilateral relation a complex one as well. If this complex relation is not handled properly, it can lead to frictions in the bilateral relationship. In the past seven decades, Nepal-India relations have seen several ups and downs.  

Media Reportage on Nepal-India Relations

This write-up sheds light on how both media in Nepal and India are reporting bilateral issues and how it is affecting the entire bilateral relationship. Both Nepal and India are democratic countries, so there are no restrictions on the media. The media itself should be responsible while reporting bilateral issues. Obviously, in many instances, the media has played a constructive role, but it is a reality that flawed media reporting can negatively contribute to the bilateral relationship, sometimes causing frictions. The news reporting from both Kathmandu and New Delhi often lacks ground reporting and local-perspective from the bordering areas. If something unpleasant happens across the bordering areas, Kathmandu and New Delhi media tend to amplify the issues without a proper understanding, thereby misrepresenting them.

Based on some flawed reporting by the media, governments and politicians formulate their positions and advance their political agendas. Therefore, media houses and journalists should improve the quality of their reporting on local issues. It is often said that Nepal and India are close, but it often seems that journalists working in both Kathmandu and New Delhi lack an understanding of each other’s issues and concerns. For instance, many Indian media reports on Nepal’s internal and bilateral issues are problematic and distort facts. Very few Indian journalists are dedicated to reporting on Nepal’s issues; they only pay attention to Nepal when some bilateral meetings take place or political events happen. 

Kathmandu’s media faces similar problems. Few journalists in Kathmandu understand India’s internal politics, decision-making process, and how the Indian government functions. Due to this lack of knowledge, many issues have been misrepresented and underrepresented. For instance, if a former diplomat or politician makes some remarks about Nepal, it is sometimes taken as an official statement of the Indian government.

Challenges

Governments of both countries are partially responsible for this. They have done little to empower journalists by providing information and perspectives on bilateral relations. Apart from a short press release of meetings, both countries have not taken the initiative to provide background information to journalists on domestic and bilateral issues. There are many mechanisms and bilateral issues between the two countries, but the media is not well-informed about all these issues. Although there are some journalist-exchange programs, they have not been fruitful and systematic. In fact, there has not been sufficient reporting on the entire gamut of bilateral issues. Many issues, from border points to the national level, require in-depth and qualitative reporting to inform the public and politicians about key bilateral issues.

Primarily, news reporting tends to focus on activities and incidents in the bordering areas, which often dominate national headlines. There is also reporting when high-level visits occur between the two countries and during meetings of bilateral mechanisms. This means that most reporting centres on events and incidents, with very little attention given to the bilateral issues. 

Therefore, media in both New Delhi, Kathmandu, and local media should revaluate the current pattern of reporting and shift their focus towards more issue-based, field-based, and research-based reporting. When something unpleasant occurs in the bordering areas, media outlets should send their news teams for local reporting instead of providing flawed reporting from the central offices. This is a less-considered but vital issue between the two countries, as border-centric incidents frequently create irritants in the bilateral relationship.

Another important aspect is issue-based, objective, and impartial reporting. There are hundreds of bilateral issues on which very few in-depth reports have been produced. For instance, there has not been proper and in-depth reporting regarding border issues between the two countries. There are several issues and separate mechanisms to address various dimensions of the border, but they have not been adequately reported. The list goes on, as there is a lack of comprehensive reporting on energy cooperation between the two countries.

This lack of comprehensive reporting is reflected in the decisions and speeches of politicians when it comes to bilateral relations. There are many instances where governments base their positions on media reporting, even though the media fails to provide the actual and complete picture of events. Similarly, politicians in both Kathmandu and New Delhi make comments on specific issues based on media coverage. Sometimes, even a minor issue is blown out of proportion, creating unnecessary tensions between the two countries.  

Conclusion

Reporting on foreign policy issues is a delicate and sensitive matter. Media houses should empower journalists with the necessary knowledge and resources before they are assigned to report on bilateral issues. Even a small mistake can damage bilateral relations. While the media is free to report on any issue, they should avoid reporting on issues that negatively affect bilateral relations and consequently the people. Media outlets in both Nepal and India should carefully review their current reporting patterns and make corrections. There are many sensitive issues between India and Nepal that require constructive debate and discussion through the media.

At the same time, media and journalists should not rely solely on reporting from Western media on Nepal-India matters, as they may not always reflect reality.

Media in India and Nepal should create their own narrative instead of following what Western and other international media reports. Additionally, journalists need to be vigilant about misinformation and disinformation that aim to damage bilateral relationships. Both governments should launch more journalist-exchange programmes in order to help journalists under the bilateral issues and those visits should also take place on border areas. At the same time, think-tanks in Kathmandu and New Delhi should pay attention to these issues seriously. 

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


     

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