25/09/2019 4:19 PM IST

Trump's Remarks Should Make Indian Media Think Hard About Itself

While PM Modi kept up his record of not speaking at press conferences, it’s Trump’s off-the-cuff comments about the Indian media that strike an alarming note.

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump have made a great show of their friendship in the past few days, both of them showering each other with praise whenever they meet (including, bizarrely, a comparison with Elvis Presley).

And while Modi kept up his record of not speaking at press conferences on Tuesday night at a joint briefing, it’s Trump’s off-the-cuff comments about the Indian media that strike a more alarming note. 

When asked repeatedly by the Indian media contingent about “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”, Trump turned to Modi and said, “You have great reporters, I wish I had reporters like this. You are doing better than anybody else. Where do you find these reporters? This is a great thing.”

Trump’s remarks—whether they were a ploy to avoid saying anything concrete on Kashmir, a snub or an actual compliment, we will never know—were met with laughter from the people at the briefing.

While Modi appeared rather amused, here’s why the comments should raise an alarm bell: 

Trump’s tussle with the media

Trump has been at loggerheads with liberal media outlets in the US ever since he decided to run for presidency. He has been questioned repeatedly about his stand on several issues including the much-touted border wall, the controversy over his tax returns, children being separated from families at the US borders and his comments on women, just to name a few. As bizarre as Trump’s campaign for elections, the subsequent victory and presidency have been, the media has kept him on his toes, questioning his every move.

He has also hit back with crass words at reporters and media outlets that paint him in an unfavourable light, usually on Twitter.

The criticism for Trump’s governance has come not just from journalists in the US, but from around the world. 

So if the Indian media has actually left Trump impressed and his remarks were meant as a compliment, we must think really hard about the state of Indian journalism. 

Tone-deaf coverage of Modi’s US trip 

While Modi has been trying to project a narrative of normalcy in Kashmir, which has been under a draconian lockdown for almost two months now, most of the Indian mainstream media have shied away from asking Modi or the BJP tough questions about it. 

While many TV channels treated the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston—a PR exercise for both Modi and Trump—as the pinnacle of Indo-US relations, there were no reports of the thousands of protesters just outside the venue.

As horror stories of children being arrested and journalists disappearing in Kashmir continue to trickle through from the state, none of the reporters questioned Modi’s claims about a “new Kashmir”.

No questions for the PM please!

Here’s your regular reminder that Modi has been India’s Prime Minister for over half a decade and is yet to hold a single press conference. There was a pretend press conference, but it wasn’t ACTUALLY one.

Even at Tuesday’s briefing, Modi kept his thoughts to himself. While Trump dodged most of the questions about his stand on Kashmir, Modi smiled, nodded and smiled more. And none of the questions were even directed to the Indian Prime Minister. 

Trump’s ploy? 

While India Today celebrated Trump’s “praise” after a question by their reporter (no, it’s not a compliment), Trump said the same thing to a Pakistani reporter a day earlier when he was asked tough questions on Kashmir. 

In fact, he used the same words to Imran Khan—“where do you find such reporters”—as well. 

Why should this bother us? While Trump has been itching to play mediator between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, he has not taken a clear stand on the issue. And both times Trump unleashed these sarcastic remarks and dodged questions on Kashmir. The Pakistani journalist’s question was about alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.