Senior Research Associate, IPAG
Editor, Hardnews Magazine, New Delhi, India.
Syed Gousul Alam Shaon
Managing Partner & Country Head, Grey, Bangladesh.
Deputy Editor, The Tribune, New Delhi, India.
Aasha Mehreen Amin,
Deputy Editor, Editorial & Op-ed, The Daily Star, Bangladesh.
The moderator, Ms. Avia Nahreen started the session by bringing to attention the transition of Conclave discussions from hard issues like economic development, trade, security, energy & water sharing to discussing issues that impact day-to-day lives, such as media, popular culture and tourism.
Mr. Sanjay Kapoor said since the Bangladeshi independence, the world has substantially changed and the ideals and values that drove independence have mutated into states which have become far more powerful and busy fighting terrorism and this has diminished the role of journalists and the media. Increasingly states have started to control narratives. He mentioned how there has been an explosion of information due to social media which has been challenging everything and due to which both print and electronic media is now fighting for its credibility. The media of both the countries –India and Bangladesh face these same challenges. There are different expectations from journalists now. Earlier journalists were expected to stand firm, challenge authority and ask questions but now this ideals have ‘flipped on their heads.’ According to him more quality information, rigorous editorial backup and sincere reporting can fight fake news.
Mr. Syed Gousul Alam Shaon mentioned that the reality is that there is a huge anti-Indian mindset in Bangladesh in terms of people-to-people relationship which is strange considering that the two countries share a strong friendship, particularly due to India helping Bangladesh during its Liberation War and the large number of people that travel from Bangladesh to India every year for various reasons. According to him, one of the core issues behind the lack of people-to-people connectivity is the lack of knowledge about either country beyond a certain sphere. He said that Bangladesh in 1971 and the country now are very different. Bangladesh now has a young population where 65% of the people are under the age of 35 and a country which is growing at a fast pace, albeit chaotic at times. So there should be focus on how one can try to understand this young country. He also mentioned that understanding Bengali Muslims, which constitute 80% of the population, is important to know this country. Media personnel in Bangladesh need to think how to translate Bangladeshi literature into Hindi and English, to access Indian audience. He also observed that the government to government relationship between India and Bangladesh is not being transferred to people-to-people relationship. So there is a lot of work to be done in this regard.
Ms. Smita Sharma agreed with Mr. Shaon that the understanding about Bangladesh in India is limited when looked at the larger picture. When Indians look to an understanding about Bangladesh, they go to Bengali speaking journalists or Bengali journalists from West Bengal. Similarly, most people in Tamil Nadu or Delhi think about Bangladesh as an extension of West Bengal. In her opinion, if India-Bangladesh relationship is to thrive in terms of tourism and culture, Bangladesh has to think beyond West Bengal and North-East, which are prevalent comfort zones. Ms. Sharma suggested that inter-cultural exchanges can take place on social media. She pointed that Bangladesh has a young population and that there should be a balance between traditional and modern youth-centric culture while promoting Bangladesh. She encouraged enhancing collaboration and joint ventures in media projects, movies, documentaries, and joint cultural research in order to increase people-to-people linkage between the two countries. Ms. Sharma also opined that if mainstream media lacks the inclination or resources to bring forth news, anyone with access to social media can do it but that also requires vetting and verification.
Ms. Aasha Mehreen Amin remarked that between the younger generations of the two countries, the emotional ties are gradually diminishing. The world is now a world of intolerance, negative propaganda, prejudice and communal forces and all these are huge obstacles to possible friendship. Both Bangladesh and India have to work much harder and promote tolerance through enhanced knowledge sharing. She urged promoting more meaningful exchanges between young people of the two countries through universities, think tanks and media. There are lot of young people who want to talk about lots of issues like youth employment, skill development, and sexual violence and there should be more such forums where the youth of both countries can share both agreeable and contentious issues.
Proceedings from the Panel Discussion
Mr. Kapoor agreed with Ms. Smita that there is hardly any presence of Indian media and journalists based in Bangladesh and there is no consistent reporting coming from Bangladesh to India which creates lack of perspective. He agreed with Mr. Shaon that Bangladesh’s economy is growing at a fast pace but most Indians hardly have any clue about it. This is happening due to lack of consistency in reporting with perspective and with independence. He believes that India has become self-obsessed and inward looking and their responsibilities towards neighborhood are not metIn Mr. Shaon’s observation, there is growing polarization in many states in the age of social media and people in our countries get more confused and then the questions of identity and how to stand out globally arise.
Mr. Shaon thinks that there is a lot of learning that can be shared between the two countries. He also said that the credibility of news need to be created through authentic reporting to counter fake narratives and media convergence can play a crucial role in this regard.