Through the Looking-Glass

The Readers’ Editor writes: Scroll.in could do more with its international news coverage

It could start with our neighbours in South Asia, going beyond Pakistan and Bangladesh.

One of the strengths of Scroll.in is that it covers a wide range of news and offers analyses on an equally wide range of topics and issues.

There is the straightforward news put together by the Scroll staff from the wire services and there is the more interesting analysis and comment from contributors and Scroll.in’s own staff. Lending a distinctive flavour to the content are offbeat stories like this one last week on an athletic competition for transgender individuals that was recently held in Kerala, and the offbeat treatment of a mainstream topic like this one on women scientists doing research on fruits and vegetables.

Wide as this range is, there remains an imbalance in the coverage. There is not much coverage of international issues. The little that appears is about North America and West Europe. There are many interesting articles sourced from The Conversation, but often these articles verge on the semi-academic and they are really about larger issues rather than on immediate events.

Scroll.in also offers a different kind of reporting and comment on international news – videos of satire and humour from American television shows. Amusing as they sometimes are, this column asked the last time around if they really should be reproduced by Scroll.in

The occasional special contribution is on the Indian diaspora, like this article that reported and commented on one dark side of the successful diaspora in Silicon Valley – domestic violence.

One cannot expect Scroll.in to be covering every single major development in the world. No media outlet anywhere does that; no media outlet has the resources to do that. Even BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN – arguably the ones to offer the widest range of news and comment from across the world – are not always comprehensive in what they report and comment on.

Yet, it is possible to ask that Scroll.in focus on at least some areas of international news. This, to begin with, could be on our neighbours in South Asia. An old and valid complaint about the media in India is that it will tell you a lot about what is happening in Miami but it will ignore Mymensingh altogether. (If you ask where Mymensingh is, that shows us the problem.)

Neighbourhood watch

The level of ignorance and lack of interest about each other in South Asia is astonishing and perhaps unique among neighbours in the world. Over the decades, many dailies have tried to break this neglect but have never done so in a sustained manner. (An exception is Himal from Kathmandu, which dealt exclusively with “politics and culture” in South Asia and tried to address this neglect from the 1990s onwards. After a commendable effort over many years, for a variety of reasons, it finally had to shut down last year.)

As in many Indian mainstream publications, there is always a fair amount in Scroll.in on India’s relations with the South Asian countries, but very little about what is happening in those countries.

I did a check of the coverage in the past month, and the results – other than of news reports sourced from agencies – are pretty startling. There is regular and expansive coverage of Pakistan, a little bit on Bangladesh, and even one article on the Maldives. But nothing whatsoever on Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan or Afghanistan.

The arrangements with Dawn (Pakistan) and Dhaka Tribune (Bangladesh) have helped bring to Scroll.in’s readers some interesting comment and analysis of important developments in the two countries.

Naresh Fernandes, editor of Scroll.in, points out that with regular contributions from a group of writers from Pakistan supplementing the syndication with Dawn, the publication is able to put out one article on and from Pakistan almost every day. These cover politics, music, minority affairs and more. In the past fortnight, for instance, we have had contributions by Haroon Khalid, Anam Zakaria, Saim Saeed and Nate Rabe on a variety of topics.

Likewise, there is the occasional contribution from Bangladesh, like this article last week by Ikhtisad Ahmed on how the Awami League is embracing Islamism in Bangladesh.

Coverage gap

The big gap is on coverage of other South Asian countries. Agreed, it is never easy to find writers who can write for an international audience and the challenge seems especially strong in South Asia.

However, it should be possible to explore syndication agreements with publications in Nepal and Sri Lanka, much like with Dawn in Pakistan and Daily Tribune in Bangladesh. Something of the same kind may not be possible with Afghanistan and Bhutan, with neither country enjoying a large enough English news media to draw on. The difficulty here would be in finding writers in these two countries who can offer insights in English.

Whatever the difficulties, Scroll.in could aim in the first instance at publishing at least one article every week on some topic – be it politics, the arts, sports or society – on each of the South Asian countries. It has already done more than that on Pakistan; it could do a bit more for the other countries.

It may take time to build up that level of coverage but we owe it to ourselves. It is obvious that the more we know about each other, the less room there will be for harbouring suspicion about each other.

We have ceded space to strategic affairs experts to tell us what the other is like, and much of that writing is tendentious and prejudiced.

Maybe, Scroll.in can make a difference here.

The Readers’ Editor can be contacted at readerseditor@scroll.in

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