Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Facts are sometimes the easiest thing to burn: The Indian attacks and the media

I somewhat understand why the Indian media is so keen to play up the idea that Indians are victimised in Australia. The government is pissed at Rudd over Uranium/NPT, and its always popular to play the nationalist card. What I don’t understand is why the Australian media seems to be aiding them:

INDIA’S high commissioner, Sujatha Singh, will return to Delhi for talks next week amid rising diplomatic tension over attacks on Indian students in Australia. Mrs Singh made a stinging complaint to the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, over the attacks in Melbourne, labelling Victoria a state ”in denial” over the severity of the problem.
Word of the envoy’s return came after India’s External Affairs Minister, S. M. Krishna, issued a strong statement on the attacks, demanding they be “stopped forthwith”. Mrs Singh will travel to Delhi to explain her perspective on the violence, which threatens to seriously damage relations between the nations.

This sounds like a major diplomatic incident. Especially in an era of easy phone, electronic and video communication, recalling a diplomat to discuss a problem is a gesture heavy with meaning. Indeed my first thought on reading the story was ‘what has set off this new row’ that such a step would be made.

Only it turns out, Singh isn’t heading back because of the attacks, and this is all just routine: (From the same article a few paragraphs down)

Some Indian media outlets are reporting she has been “recalled” because of the controversy surrounding the attacks. But a government source said the meetings were not out of the ordinary and Mrs Singh was not being “summoned back”. “She is scheduled to come back on routine consultation duties scheduled from 10 to 16 February to apprise the government and minister of her on-the-ground assessment … and also to apprise the government here of steps taken by the Australian authorities.”

“Diplomat returns for routine briefing, will discuss current events” isn’t as good a story but it has one fundamental advantage: It’s actually the truth.

If Australian’s reaction to the attacks on Indian students has seemed low key, its fundamentally because Australians don’t believe their is a racist attitude towards Indians in their community, and so put the attacks down to either random chance/bad luck (walking alone at 2am in some areas is never a wise idea) or occasional nutters which every society has. The Government and police could certainly have done a better job responding, but socially its not an issue. However constant attacks by the Indian media that claim Australia is racist, and media reports that seem to suggest a significant conflict is occuring between our two nations have the potential to actually trigger negative sentiments by Australians towards indians. No one likes being called racist, and in the minds of the nutters out there inclined to already hate people based on their race, an attack might switch from being simple petty hatred to defending their countries pride and reputation.

The media in both Australia and India have a duty to report fairly and accurately the details (the recent fraudulent claims about a petrol attack on an Indian man being a perfect example of the need to be cautious), but also to keep the issue in perspective and not let their desire for conflict (for reasons of sales over ideology/nationalism) interfere with their jobs and basic allegiance to the truth.