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Indian Media Influence Relations with Australia

  • Phil Mercer

A cruise ship hangs a large national flag in celebration of Australia Day, in Sydney Harbour behind the Opera House in Sydney, Jan. 26, 2012.
SYDNEY – In Australia, an international conference has heard how a more assertive, nationalistic Indian media has helped to change New Delhi’s relationship with Canberra. Bilateral ties were strained by a series of attacks, some of them racially motivated, on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne in 2009 and 2010.

Australian officials concede that some of the assaults on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne in 2009 and 2010 were motivated by race.

The attacks provoked an avalanche of criticism by Indian television stations and newspapers about perceived intolerance in Australian society and alleged police inadequacies.

Christopher Kremmer, a doctoral researcher at the University of Western Sydney, says some of the coverage made a tense situation even worse.

"When Indian media began running reports about Indian students in Australia being affected by street crime, things like robbery and assault, the Indian media took up that issue with great élan and great vigor, and there were obvious reasons why they would be concerned in India. That turned to panic, I think, as a result of some fairly vigorous, some say sensationalist, reporting by India’s new television media," said Kremmer.

What Kremmer characterized as often breathless and lurid reporting initially hampered efforts by the Indian and Australian governments to soothe tensions and improve security for tens of thousands of foreign students. But he says his work has found that the media eventually brought both sides closer together.

"When we look back we see that, really for the first time, Australian and Indian officials were forced to work together on a very difficult problem and there was a kind of growing understanding between the two sides and something of an appreciation for the extent to which both on the Indian side and the Australian side there was a genuine desire to not allow this single issue to overwhelm the entire relationship," Kremmer said.

The subject was one of several issues discussed at a conference hosted by the University of Western Sydney to explore ways for Australia to better understand its neighbors in Asia.

Other topics include the rising interest among Western universities to set up campuses in Asia, and a focus on "cultures of resilience," such as the rice farmers who reinstated ceremonies to celebrate successful harvests, share indigenous rice species and promote a sense of shared community.

Australia's prosperity is increasingly tied to that of its Asian neighbors. Historically, modern Australia is linked to its colonial founder, Britain. A 60-year military alliance with the United States is considered to be the cornerstone of its national security, but geographically and economically, Australia is tied to Asia.