J-POD || Podcast || “A large section of media doesn’t want to dwell on stories that present the government in a bad light” || Ananth Krishnan of ‘The Hindu’ on the tepid coverage of Chinese ingress

Ananth Krishnan, the Mandarin-speaking Beijing Correspondent of The Hindu, on his book “India’s China Challenge” (HarperCollins), in the wake of #Coronavirus and the Chinese incursions into #Ladakh, and what the future holds for both countries.


India is locked in its biggest conflict with China in recent times. Twenty Indian soldiers have died. Massive tracts of Indian land have been lost.

In response—without naming China—India has banned Chinese apps, curtailed visas for Chinese citizens, raised the entry barrier for Chinese investors, and banned the study of Mandarin.

The two nuclear powers—the two most populous nations on Earth—are talking to prevent the situation from spiralling further into a military battle.

But where are the independent journalistic voices to explain how Beijing is thinking at this critical juncture? Who is telling Indian readers and viewers on what is going through the minds of the Chinese government, the People’s Liberation Army, or the Communist Party?


For all its size and reach and deep pockets, Indian media is increasingly insular, looking inwards as if the world revolves around us. There are far fewer foreign correspondents today than in the past.

This is fertile ground for xenophobia and jingoism. This is also the perfect setting for military and diplomatic talking heads to present stump positions. 

At a moment of pressing need, India doesn’t have the detached journalistic view from Beijing. This is because the number of Indian journalists in China can be counted on one hand.

Before COVID there were just three newspaper reporters and one news agency reporter—and no TV bureaux whatsoever. After COVID that number has shrunk even further.


Ananth Krishnan is the Beijing correspondent of The Hindu on his second stint with the newspaper. For the last 11 years, Ananth has lived and worked in China, first for The Hindu, then for India Today, his reporting having taken him to all but three of China’s 33 provinces and regions.

In this podcast, Ananth Krishnan, a former visiting fellow at Brookings India, speaks on his new book—India’s China Challenge—which is forthcoming from Harper Collins in September.

Ananth also discusses Indian media coverage of the Chinese incursions, and provides an insight into the state of Chinese media that is far removed from the standard desktop caricature.


On why Indian media coverage of Chinese incursions has been so tepid: “India media is suffering from sense of fatigue. There have been competing interests like the COVID pandemic. And then you have had many things taking away from media attention.

“Right from the outset, there has been a tendency in some sections of the media to downplay what was happening. There is a large section of the media that doesn’t want to dwell on stories that present the government in a bad light.” 


Is there good journalism in China or is it all propaganda?: The Chinese media scene is more complicated than what it is made out to be. Some of the journalism that was done from Wuhan in December-January was extraordinary. A lot of what we know today about the coverup that happened in Wuhan throughout December is not because of The New York Times or The Washington Post, it is because of Chinese media that were allowed by Beijing, because Beijing felt the local government in Wuhan wasn’t giving them the full picture.


Chinese media and social media are not all propaganda: “When I moved to Beijing in 2009—the year Facebook and Twitter were blocked in China—Weibo was a thriving place, where people were posting stories from villages about land grabs, about corruption. All this was being allowed. It was a booming moment for Chinese journalism till right after the 2012 Olympics, when you had new magazines like Caixin come up but unfortunately this was a fleeting moment.


Chinese media freedom has eroded in last few years: “One of the big changes under Xi Jinping is that he has reversed almost a decade-long trend of the opening up of domestic Chinese media. It is unfortunate that in the last 4-5 years you are going back to pre-2000 kind of media environment where all the papers are saying similar things, where the party is controlling what people say and don’t say. The gains that were made are being eroded.”


The click-bait culture of The Global Times, English: “We in India focus so much on The Global Times, English. Often times things that are published in Global Times English don’t even appear in Global Times, Chinese. We think they have an unlimited budget, but no, they need hits, they need clicks. Foreign friends who worked at these outlets say they know that they get traffic from US and India, which is why they have so much stuff aimed at Indian eyeballs and we fall for it every time. For lack of a better word, it is just trolling.”


Why Indian media doesn’t have more foreign reporting: “There has broadly been a move away from old school, boots on the ground reporting. When you can throw different voices in a studio and generate ratings, there his no incentive in reporting. Not just internationally, domestically as well, newspapers and television. Foreign coverage has been a casualty.

“When your finances are squeezed, the first thing that goes is foreign coverage. There is a broader trend of just not being interested. Even when newspapers had the pockets to invest, they did not. The irony is now that we are waking up to the need to cover China, it is a pretty sad irony.”   


Also read: “India has ceded territory to China”: near-unanimous newspaper editorials

“Ambiguous. Beseiged. Confusing. Disappointing. Dismaying. Evasive. Frightening. Unpardonable. Unsatisfactory. PM should speak again”: editorials on ‘Surender’ Modi’s cop-out

The veterans who unmasked the Chinese incursions

Stop showing satellite images, TV editors get a nudge

A well-travelled story that goes from Rediff to Washington Post

Press Club of India tears into attack on Press Trust of India

The 15-point memo journos received on what line to push

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