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India, China relations and media coverage: A Public Diplomacy challenge

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Media relations seem to have become crucial in managing Sino-Indian ties. Global Times of China recently focused on the effect of media coverage on Sino-Indian ties. Writing for the publication, Tian Wei, anchor of CCTV’s special coverage of important domestic and international events, said that media in both countries need to be more credible in their coverage of Sino-India relations and not succumb to, “the market and fierce media competition, since pandering to nationalism and popular hysteria is an easy way to drum up sales.” (Since media industry is growing exponentially in India and China)

Wei also highlighted that there was no media coverage in India on the passing away of prominent Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin in Beijing, “best remembered for his achievements on ancient Indian aboriginal languages, primeval Buddhist languages and Sanskrit literature.” Ji Xianlin also translated the epic Ramayana from Sanskrit into Chinese and was a recipient of Padma Bhushan, one of India's top civilian honor.

On 29th March 2010, the newspaper also carried an interview of Dr S. Jaishankar, Indian ambassador to China, on the future prospects of India- China relations. In the course of the interview, the Indian ambassador acknowledged the need to better manage the media by both countries to ensure there is no speculation among people resulting in a trust deficit between the countries. He said that, “it is important to reshape the relationship to push media reporting to a more positive direction.” The ambassador also stressed the need to improve messaging instead of worrying about the actions of the media.

The idea of managing media relations by professional managers is a new concept in China and India’s public diplomacy discourse. It has generally been limited to the mandarins in foreign office of both these countries, though, I must admit, China is a bit ahead on this. However, with the exponential growth of the industry in both these countries and also the boom in uncontrolled media like the internet, the need is felt for professional media managers within the government who can decide on the message, control the message, effectively disseminate, pitch story ideas, track and analyze coverage accordingly. Interestingly, there is a need to engage with media both internally as well as externally. The Indian ambassador is right in his reading of the situation and it remains to be seen how the Public Diplomacy Division in the MEA incorporates it in its long term strategy.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur
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