MEDIA IN FOREIGN POLICY MAKING
The Media have a direct and fundamental effect on almost every aspect of the lives of people. This is especially so for the entire spectrum of the political process.
There is a vital difference in a way media work relative to domestic and foreign policies. India’s lively and well – informed print and electronic media pay considerable attention to foreign policy issues- some of broad national interest, others of only parochial concern – and seek to influence the way the government deals with them.
The importance of garnering domestic support for foreign policy is recognized and underscored by the fact that Ministry of External Affairs Public Diplomacy Division and External Publicity Decision goes into the management of what has been referred to as India’s ‘media diplomacy’, ‘soundbite diplomacy’, ‘instant diplomacy’ & ‘real time diplomacy’.
Since people often depend to a greater degree on the media to report and explain foreign policy developments, media practioners and policy makers have a close relationship which is a two-way street. This is exercised by the government exerting a certain degree of pressure to guide (and manipulate) information concerning policy and the National interest; and the media, through its reportage and commentary, nudging policy in certain directions
Role of Media
- Media can, primarily, draw and sustain attention to a policy issue.
- Media can alter the discourse around a policy by framing or defining the issue in a particular way.
According to Manoj Joshi, there are two prominent theories on media and policy making in agenda setting, and issue framing.
- The new technologies have appeared to reduce the scope for calm deliberation over policy. Rather, it often forces policy makers to respond to whatever issue journalists focused on.
- Media’s impact on foreign policy can also be understood with the larger role that it plays in providing and understanding of foreign countries and their foreign policies to the domestic audience.
But it is also true that Indian media continue to view developments abroad through the eyes of foreign news agencies since Indian news agencies, too, have just a handful of correspondents abroad.
- With the end of the era of consensual foreign policy, replaced by approaches that very from being simply different, to being partisan and ideological, the media end up playing the role of arbiter, rather than a reporter, to contending political views.
- The Indian media also provide an important forum with which to interact with India’s large diaspora, which is an important source of remittances, lobbying and representative power, with successive Indian governments attempting to harness its influence in host states.
- Indian media as a whole has emerged as a significant business opportunity attracting large investments. This has helped the media to become more autonomous players in the foreign policy debates in the country, often adopting contrarian positions with the goal of attracting audience.
The influence of the media continues to be apparent when it comes to the deliberation of international affairs in India.
- This impact dates from the anti- Chinese rhetoric that surrounded the April, 1960 Zhou Enlai- Nehru meeting which effectively preventive any Indian compromise on their shared border.
- In responding to the Sri Lankan military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Tamil Nadu based parties, including coalition partner DMK attacked the government. The state level media also went along with the Tamil Nadu parties.
- Fallout from the India-Pakistan joint statement after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in July 2009 – the battle lines saw the government on one side, and virtually the entire media and opposition against it. There was a storm of criticism in India within media articles describing this variously a betrayal, sellout and blunder. As a result, the talk of reapproachment with Pakistan ground to a halt.
- Interestingly, the media showed consistent support of the government at the time of the 2008 Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement, despite considerable opposition especially from the Left parties, and the call for a no-confidence motion.
Thus, there can be little doubt that the media play a significant role in informing, shaping or skewing the foreign policy debate. But it remains questionable as the whether it can actually lead a government to adopted, modify, or abandon a chosen foreign policy discourse.
Moreover, the extent to which the media influence government policy depends to a great degree on the government itself. A strong government with a coherent policy can tide over media storms, whereas an unsure course within the government can buffet the policy ship in one direction or the other or bring it to a grinding halt.
The media, in a democratic country do play the role of an autonomous fourth estate of the government, but the influence of the media, in case of India is limited by a variety of factors. These include access to information, quality of reportage, etc.
All this ensures that the Indian media still have a long way to go before they can make a significant role in the making of foreign policy.