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Bahar Dutt
Wednesday, December 07, 2011 at 16 : 30

India bashing in the western media: is India in need of a major public relations exercise?


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It's that time of the year again. Yes, the end of the year, but the start of a another summit on climate change. This is my third year at the climate change negotiations. And I could write the script in my sleep now. The big daddy US opposes, the EU acts like a martyr (like it's the only bloc interested in a serious treaty,) India bristles, and China, well continues to add a thermal power plant every hour.

As part of hundreds of journalists who converge every year at this conference, we are all now familiar faces, at least to each other! As laptops and iPads blaze away at the media centre, I wonder are we all filing the same story? Clearly not.

Climate change negotiations are strongly linked to perceptions and projections. And the projections are based on how the media reports on them. For instance, how does the western media project India? There is a clear bias against developing countries, especially India and China, in the way the western media reports on climate change.

Just yesterday our Indian environment minister held a press conference. She clearly stated, "I have come to Durban with an open mind. We are open to a legally binding treatment but we have some conditions." Now do note, every country is open to a legally binding treatment, no one wants to come across as a deal breaker. But everyone has some conditions. The US wants every country on board, India and China want a treaty that is embedded in an extension of the Kyoto protocol. Now take a look at what three western top agencies have carried as their front page headlines:

Indian Minister critical of a legally binding treaty

A leading British news paper went a step further -

INDIA DAMPENS Europe's hopes of a new climate change agreement

The headline itself suggests where the target audience of the newspaper is. India is the bad guy, the deal breaker. Never mind that every country from the rich or the poor world is doing exactly the same!

Now lets go a step further, and take a look at some facts which often get ignored. A recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute shows that the developing countries just by setting voluntary targets are doing far more to curb climate change than the rich countries. The report states "Unless accounting rules for Annex 1 countries are made more stringent, then Annex 1 countries will be able to formally comply with their pledges with very little actual mitigation and possibly none at all". The report clearly suggests that developed nations are not doing enough. And yet I haven't come across any screaming headline from the western press on this. Why?!

I am flummoxed , when I come across such reports how they are ignored by mainstream media, or even the big international agencies like the UNEP that have been releasing reports on whose polluting the most, yet continue to blame "emerging economies".

Lets now take a look at who IS polluting the most. In the years between 2009 and 2010, emissions of China increased by 10%, India around 9%. Fair enough. But now take a look at how much the so called Developed Nations increased their emissions by: USA 4% , Germany and UK: 4%. Now these are countries who through their historic emissions have already taken a large slice of the atmospheric pie. These are nations that have taken pledges to reduce, not increase! I didn't find any screaming headline on this!

Forget the western media, why does India not get good press in general? Are we in need of a major public relations exercise? I think so. We are doing a lot, in our own country, we just don't project it enough. I spoke to Dr Kirit Parikh yesterday, whose the chairperson of the Committee of Low Carbon Growth set up by the Indian government, he spoke about the range of efforts in place to reduce our emissions. But we don't talk about this enough, in international for India needs a better communication strategy in place that is much more technology savvy, and less apologetic for its stand on climate change. Otherwise the western press is going to continue their agenda of annihilating us.


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More about Bahar Dutt

Bahar Dutt is a wildlife conservationist by training. She has worked for the last ten years on crucial wildlife conservation projects in India and abroad. In England she worked at the world famous Jersey Zoo set up by naturalist Gerald Durrell and was involved in assessing the conditions for release of endangered primate in the Amazon forests. . She has over 10 awards to her credit including the Ramnath Goenka Award in 2006 and the Wildscreen Award , UK and the Young Environment Journalist Award 2007. As an environment editor at CNN-IBN she has done a range of stories travelling to far and forgotten corners of this country to expose the nexus between the mining mafia, politicians and corporates. She has posed as a furniture maker to expose the illegal trade in banned timber in the Western Ghats, and the nexus between the police and a mining company in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. One of her most dramatic exposés involved a cement company of global dimensions that had been operating illegally in the forests of Meghalaya on the India-Bangladesh border. More recently, she and the CNN-IBN team exposed the operations of a miner in Goa who had illegally devastated forest lands. Their story led to the shut down of the mine.
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