A Little Nostalgia: Foreign Fourth Estate and India
by Jay Bhattacharjee on 07 Dec 2010 5 Comments

[After we publishedForeign Correspondents abuse Indian hospitality, host Mirwaizon Dec. 2, 2010, Mr Jay Bhattacharjee sent us a copy of his 1999 article, originally published in The Pioneer, New Delhi, demolishing the insidious role of the foreign press in India. As this decade-old article still has a very contemporary ring – seems the Foreign (read Western) Media has utterly failed to evolve – we are re-publishing it in the public interest – Editor]


The Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) is located next to the Supreme Court and cheek by jowl with the houses of some of the Capital's top mandarins. The  building  belongs  to  the Central Government and has almost certainly been rented out to the FCC at the ridiculously low rate that the President of India is  pleased to  charge  from  his  most  privileged and affluent citizens. In  other words, the hapless Indian tax payer  heavily subsidises  a  coterie of foreign scribes, whose purported mandate is to report objectively on this country's affairs for their  global  readers,  but who do precisely the opposite.

The FCC is a sepulchral and dreary establishment, which also manages to project a distinctly sinister and eerie image. Its dimly lit rooms, tastelessly furnished, remind you of Eric Ambler and the Balkans of the 1930s - the other image is Harry Lime's Vienna in 1945. The whole ambience reeks of petty intrigue and low-level skulduggery - Bond and the high-tech world of the NSA it is not.

On the few occasions when I have visited the FCC in the last few years, I have always found the experience interesting. Invariably, the members of the international rat pack stunned me with their devastating ignorance of this country, its history and  its people -  worse was their mind-set  and disposition. At this stage, I must enter the caveat that the movers and shakers in the FCC about whom I am talking are the members of the Western Press, including the odd Australian. The representatives of the Asian and African publications are either low-profile or not so active participants at meetings and conferences.

If the condescension and prejudices of the goras of the FCC are bad, the fawning servitude and more-royal-than-the king zeal of the Indian correspondents of overseas publications are worse. Now, this  is understandable and one should not be too harsh on the factotums - after all, with the greenback at more than 42 to the humble  rupee, they have to shout from the rooftops when the big white chiefs are within hearing distance.                                             

A few years ago, an American scribe working for a French wire agency invited me for his farewell dinner at the FCC. Now, this man was not a bad sort - he spoke decent French, subscribed to the notion that all good Americans go to Paris after death and was not overtly racist. The problem with him was he never did any work when it came to economic and financial subjects - I drew the line when he borrowed our study on the Indian financial sector and used it almost verbatim in a North American publication.

However, his farewell bash was another thing altogether. The place was flush with diplomats from our friendly neighbour to the West - nothing unusual with this, except that the international rat pack hung around these chaps and lapped up every word of theirs, specially when the refrain was that the mujahideen were a friendly bunch of tourists visiting the Valley and it was jolly unfair of the Indian Army to seize the AK-47s which they are in the habit of carrying. When I interjected at one point in the evening, as the Pakistani disinformation effort reached its peak, I was told by some of the sahibs that I should not speak, since I was merely a guest in the club. I am happy to report that my reply contained a few choice phrases which should still be ringing in the ears of that lot.

The visit to the FCC a few days back was even more illuminating. The occasion was a question-and-answer session with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in the aftermath of the Gujarat incidents. If ever there was proof of an innate desire to rush to judgement, one found it in abundance on that wintry afternoon. Leading the charge was an Anglo-German duo. The Brit looked a caricature of the Raj figure dressing down recalcitrant natives, while the latter appeared to have come straight out of the Prussian swamps, with only the monocle missing.

The refrain of the sahibs was simple - why were the Hindoos misbehaving with the Christians and not being their usual meek selves? All explanation on the part of the VHP team was brushed aside with the casual air of the master of the manor dealing with uppity peasants in the estate. This is not to say that  the VHP, the  Bajrang  Dal and the RSS do not have many things to explain, but the supreme confidence with  which they are assailed and convicted  by the international  media, without listening to anything they have to say  in defence, is something  which  we Indians must  examine very carefully. The arrogance of the white pen-pushers and mikewallahs (more on them later) is astonishing.

At the FCC that afternoon, the vintage Brit stopped just short of the brink, but the Hun went ahead with his Panzer assault. If violence on Christians continued, asked meinherr, would it not be proper for Germans to stop contributing to Church charity funds that are earmarked for work in India? If this  mind-boggling impertinence was not enough, we also had a couple of strident females (one of them a Canadian who strings for a British  daily) who harangued the guests and refused to allow them to complete their answers.

Bringing up the rear was a pimply and vacuous Anglo-Saxon  who  pronounced  that the entire response of the VHP team was woolly as far as the conversion issue  was  concerned, since Religious Freedom was a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.


This was after it had been explained to him that (a) there is no right of conversion in Indian law, (b) the freedom to propagate one's religion, guaranteed in the Constitution, does not extend to converting a person of another faith, and (c) the Supreme Court had said so in a judgement 12 years ago, with all five judges on the Bench concurring with the verdict.

The behaviour of the international electronic media is equally dismal. The cacophony of criticism of India and so-called Hindu fundamentalism in the foreign channels has risen to a crescendo, with the BBC and STAR leading the storm troopers. Now, we are all aware of the role of Auntie Beeb in the last 40 years or so, but the Indian acolytes of the foreign masters of these two channels have outdone their mentors and pay-masters. Every single Indian-produced programme on current affairs aired on these channels in the last few weeks has pronounced the Sangh Parivar guilty of the most heinous crimes, without the fig-leaf of providing it a defence counsel. Many viewers will have  noticed the outrageous behaviour  of the  NDTV interviewer who accosted the Union Home Minister as he was getting into his car and tried  to  put  words  into  his  mouth  about the involvement of the Bajrang Dal in the  Staines murders.


Another risible and shabby incident was when the BBC telecast a mock-quiz programme as the grand finale of its new quiz series. Interestingly, each one of the participants made trenchant criticisms of the Indian nuclear tests, though there was no logical connection between that December night's proceedings and the events seven months earlier in May. Statistically too, how does BBC's Indian producer manage to rustle up a panel comprising all four people who oppose Pokhran, although the majority in the country endorses the tests? Is this objectivity?

In the midst of this self-flagellation by the country's elite and the calculated disinformation campaign by the European-North American media, there is a welcome breath of fresh air. French correspondent François Gautier wrote an incisive and hard-hitting  piece in one of our contemporaries, exposing the hideous facade behind the postures adopted by the English-language Press in the  country (which is trying to outdo the  former  colonial masters) and the dishonest role of the foreign Press. Gautier should know - the Third Republic in France in the 1930s saw the same phenomenon of the enemy within and outside (across the Rhine). Merci, my friend. But you are a loner in the FCC and our country's elite would rather listen to drivel from the rat packs than your perceptive thoughts.


The author is an Advisor (Corporate Laws & Finance) and Member, Delhi Stock Exchange Ltd.

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