Indian media on riots in Uganda

Published: Tuesday 15 May 2007

any inkling of danger to Indians in other parts of the world is often enough to send the country's media into a panic overdrive. Sometimes understandably so. Most non-resident Indians retain family ties, and the media could justifiably argue that it is duty-bound to report their well-being--or the lack of it--to people back home.

But it's not a matter of addressing filial concerns. The Indian media almost always takes sides in complex social, political and economic matters involving ethnic Indians in other parts of the world. That, again, is no sin. Reportage, journalist credo of objectivity notwithstanding, is never without bias. But at this point the Indian media loses innocence: it does not merely take sides but obfuscates matters as well.

The reportage over the recent anti-Asian violence in Uganda is a good example. One person was stoned to death by a mob and properties of many others damaged. Scenes of people dragged off motorbikes and beaten brought back hoary memories of 1972, when Uganda's former dictator Idi Amin expelled a large number of Asians from the country. As tension exacerbated, the Indian media lost sight of the immediate provocation. Many Indians who have returned to Uganda are viewed with suspicion by people there, who resent their domination of many businesses. Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited has invited ire this time, because the company, owned by people of Indian origin has been promised one-third of the Mabira forests in this East African country, despite warnings that the move will spell ecological doom.

Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni has gone on record saying conservation is a luxury that poor countries seeking development can ill afford and that he will not be swayed by those who fail to see that the country's future lies in processing goods. But it's not conservation of a green patch per se. Villagers who live in Mabira depend on it for fuel, food and timber. The forest also has springs from which people get their water.

Some Indian media reports do tail off with the ecological aspect, in others the word limit crunch has taken its toll. Perhaps. But an examination of the Indian media's recent inclination gives us good ground to believe this selectivity is a structural rather than personal preference. But why should we be surprised? Don't we know on which side the media's bread is buttered when it comes to choosing between industry and livelihoods or ecological concerns?

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