Pre-Fab Reporting

An essay by Indian writer Pankaj Mishra in Outlook India critiques western media coverage of India and China:

China has unexpectedly emerged on the world stage, its intentions and motivations still largely unknown, its distance from Western-style democracy still considerable, and its nationalism frequently verging on xenophobia. Failed experiments with unfettered capitalism have helped instal right-wing authoritarian and populist left-wing regimes in Russia and Latin America respectively. The recent irruptions of radical Islam, the calamitous war in Iraq and the Taliban’s resurgence have muddied further the image of a world rushing to embrace victorious Western values.

Nevertheless, the triumphalist assumptions of the end of the cold war continue to inform not only the average issue of the Wall Street Journal or The Economist but indeed most of the foreign coverage in the American and British media. A worldview decisively shaped by events of the previous two decades—the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions that renewed a belief in the ‘magic of the marketplace’—is still far from being overhauled by the recent shocks to the Western economies. Most Western writers and journalists are still conditioned to see their consumer societies as the inevitable and desirable terminus of history.

Free-market capitalists in much of the West happily managed without representative democracy for centuries, and still circumvent its checks and balances. Indeed, notwithstanding the moral rhetoric of freedom and democracy, multinational companies prefer China to India because they find it easier to work in a politically monolithic country than in a pluralistic one. Still, China’s failure to blossom into a liberal democracy while embracing free-market capitalism provokes some discomfort among liberal-minded journalists.