The Role of Media in Promoting Regional Understanding in South Asia

October 22, 2014

New Delhi: The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, India’s oldest and premier think tank, is hosting the 8th South Asia Dialogue on ‘The Role of Media in Promoting Regional Understanding in South Asia’ on October 28-29, 2014.

Media plays a very important role in generating public awareness and shaping public opinion. It is regarded as the fourth estate and an important pillar of democracy. With the mushrooming of media around the world– print, visual and social– its role has become even more significant. The manner in which reports are filed and news is disseminated, have their impact on public opinion. In an interconnected world, the role of media in influencing foreign policy of states can hardly be ignored.

In South Asia, a region where inter-state relations are held hostage to zero-sum politics, media has a big responsibility in creating an environment of trust and understanding since the states of the region are socially, historically, culturally and economically interconnected, the role of media assumes even more significance. However, unfortunately, the media in different states of South Asia are yet to show necessary maturity and wisdom in enabling an environment of mutual trust and confidence. The discourses in media are often mired in narrowly conceived nationalist templates which far from bridging differences, escalate them, causing irreparable harm to regional understanding. While tension and conflict among states and communities find more news space, shared history and culture are conveniently ignored. All this results in media adding to interstate conflicts and increasing the political temperature, rather than acting as an agent of change and reconciliation.

Media cannot be looked at as a monolithic entity. There are several layers to it. Moreover, the media is facing several restrictions. There is the issue of media censorship and media freedom. There is also the issue of media ownership— by political parties, interest groups and business houses. With their vested interests the owners sometimes dictate the line a media group would take at the expense of neutrality. The influence of certain institutions on media begs close scrutiny in view of their impact on foreign and security policies of some states. The differences in approach between vernacular and English media and their influence on society and politics is also another area which has not received much critical attention. The social media is assuming importance in most of these countries with the penetration of internet and wider use of mobile phones especially among the youth who constitute a critical mass in South Asia.

Given the increasingly significant role played by the media, the 8th South Asian Dialogue being organized by the IDSA seeks to explore the following.

  • What role media is playing in shaping public opinion in different countries?
  • How are they influencing foreign and security policies of states? Is there any difference between the vernacular and English language media in this regard?
  • What are the forces influencing media and its approach to regional issues?
  • How does media ownership impact reporting by different media houses?
  • Do media play a role in promoting jingoistic nationalism in the region? How does it interfere with the process of regional unity and integration?
  • Can media play a role in promoting regional understanding and contribute to regional peace and amity?

The South Asia Dialogue is an annual event, organized by the IDSA. Since the countries in the South Asian region not only share many features of governance and structures, but face similar challenges, the successive South Asia Dialogues have attempted to engage policy makers, scholars and grassroots activists to dialogue on key concerns with the objective to achieve sustainable peace and security.

The dialogue seeks to draw on a cross-section of policy makers, academics, civil society actors and young professionals from the whole south Asian region to provide a platform for shared reflection on issues of common interest.