Foreign Policy Blogs

Bangladesh in U.S versus U.K News Coverage

On a lark, I’d begun to write today’s post with the idea that I’d deal mainly with the ill-gauged foresight with which even the most vaunted media outlets in the U.S deal with Bangladesh and her political economy and “culture”. With no small irreverence, I’d started the piece with the following declaration and all that it insinuated:

“Its been a long time coming, but I knew a change was gonna come.  Oh yes it did.”

“The  New York Times finally ran a piece yesterday filed by Reuters on the 3 men detained in Bangladesh, for allegedly plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy and Indian High Commission in Dhaka”  

However, as I investigated the depth of Times coverage on Bangladesh, I saw that The Grey Lady had published a short piece on November 6th, on just the story that I’d been writing on. And in fact, the piece had described the implications of the arrest in Chittagong of the 3 Bangladeshi’s than had the local news outlets. I’d argue that this, more piece-meal approach, exemplified by the Daily Star’s reporting has to do with the greater focus that Bangladeshi news media seem to place on local parliamentary politics and the fact that interested readers follow a story from day to day.  On the other hand I’d argue that the U.S see the world through our geo-political–perhaps, more real politikal– interests.  However, unlike, say, demonstrated by the media coverage of Bangladesh in the U.K, its an interest that stakes more bold claim on more obvious facts of the matter, and is less concerned with socio-economic and demographic trends that form the background conditions for those facts.

So today, I’d like to parse out in an explanatory manner, some of the reasons that might relate to the two different types of media coverage that play out between, say the BBC and the New York Times.  (Please understand that in discussing these issues, I do not claim to have ANY expertise in the matter, whatsoever; rather I claim to want to understand by putting forward in writing some propositions that might help me understand, above and beyond whatever understanding my frail mind, recursively, allows.  I also realize that the BBC is a larger conglomeration of media units than the Times, and as such is able to source material in a way that the Times cannot.  Nevertheless, I think my argument is sound.)

A first pass at the issue would have to look at the operating costs of running a international bureau for each of the two media outlets that I’ve chosen to examine.  The NY Times, for instance, runs most of its pieces on Bangladesh from its South Asia desk, headed by Somini Sengupta.  Alternatively it runs pieces sourced from newswires like Reuters–presumably to cut costs.  The Times is not partially publicly funded as is the BBC and since, its costs of operation have steadily increased as its subscriptions rolls have steadily decreased, without government subsidy the unspoken claims of NY Times’ exposure of Bangladesh have not had a comparable impact.

However, this does not explain, the Times’ historical bias toward a largely national security and food security take on Bangladesh.  Even a casual examination of the BBC website when compared to the NY Times website shows that the BBC is interested in the sociological background conditions in which Bangladesh and Bangladeshi’s find themselves.  I propose that the reasons are two  fold.  In the first case, historical conditions have made it feasible that the UK should remain interested in Bangladesh; in the second, political economic interests have made it necessary for, say, the BBC to remain engaged in Bangladesh.  I want to push the issue and say, that combined, they make for a powerful cocktail,which independent of the other might, see each motive recede to the background.

Bangladesh is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the 53 members states that, for the most part, were former colonies of th British Empire.  This historical trajectory from colony to commonwealth lives on in a certain sociological anchor that can traced from a country’s general consent to govern itself through parliamentary politics (the unicameral Sangshad Bhaban, the  bicameral Sansad Bhavan, composed of the Lok and Rajya Sabha) to the kinds of sports enjoyed by a streaming multitude (football, cricket, polo, in certain locales.)  The British empire has left its mark.  In 1971, the United States of America looked away from her horrific countenance, when Bangladesh, standing her ground, looked west ward for some manna.

Consider that the BBC published a piece on Bangladesh’s recent ban on the Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir.  Though it is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism on Bangladeshi soil, nevertheless, its proscription is a piece of good news for students of counter-terrorism and political ideology.  I have been unable to find a similar piece in the Times.  I can only think that its absence has much to do with the fact that no American interests were harmed or directly aided by this move.

Consider also that the BBC is launching a show about contemporary Bangladeshi life , though a caricature and a fiction.  Though this show is meant to inspire Bangladeshi immigrants to learn English, and is therefore a piece of public policy, nevertheless a move does indicate that the BBC is interested in understanding the sociological conditions at work in places like Sylhet and East London.  And this is the crux of the second explanatory reason why the BBC is interested in Bangladesh: it has the readership and the viewing public to make its investments worthwhile.  However since the interests are political economic and they attach to “real” human beings from a certain country, it necessitates a cultural stance on propositions in which Bangladesh might, at least, feign attention.  The New York Times, though the paper of record, and arguably the most widely read newspaper in the world, does not feel the pulse of incoming receipts as does the BBC.  The Times does not pay attention to Bangladesh because apart from the sheer cost to do so, because there’s little to be gained from constant attention.The specific history under which the U.S. relates to Bangladesh makes it unlikely that U.S. media outlets will show interest in Bangladesh within some perceptively lived span of time.

I am not making a claim that the Times has breached some normative injunction on “proper coverage of politics in far flung countries” but rather have tried to fumble through an explanatory take on why the Times thinks it unfeasible (perhaps, even impossible) to cover Bangladesh in a manner consistent with her import to South Asian politics.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

Great Decisions Discussion group