May 2, 2007EconomyForeign Affairs

What’s with Foreign Policy magazine?

Think before you print

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

What’ with Foreign Policy magazine? It is making it a habit of publishing misleading, blinkered or amateurish commentary on India. Late last year it accused India of helping Iran build the bomb’. Then it published an anti-India diatribe by Barbara Crossette with factual errors: and refusec to correct them when pointed out. Most recently we saw a post by Preeti Aroon on the magazine’s blog, about why the urban poor prefer TVs over toilets, that showed a severe paucity of reasoning skills

And now we have this from its latest edition:

India Offline

By Preeti Aroon

India is known for its vibrant public discourse on everything from politics to Bollywood. But in this nation of 42 million Internet users, those conversations aren’t happening online. Recent research suggests India has just 1.2 million bloggers. By comparison, China has around 30 million. One northern India-based blog-hosting company, Ibibo, has even resorted to offering cash prizes to entice people to blog regularly. Indians’ tendency to be bashful about blogging appears to stem in part from a problem of perception. “The perception [is] that blogging is for people possessing superior writing skills,” says Ibibo executive Rahul Razdan. In a country where nearly 40 percent of people are illiterate, that perception spells trouble. Before blogs can burgeon, Indians may need to learn their ABCs. [FP]Here again is a paucity of reasoning. The number of bloggers in a country depends not just on literacy but on the number of internet users, the number of personal computers, substitutes for blogging, level of computer literacy, level of computer literacy in the language that a person is literate in, availability of hardware and software in that language to name a few.

At 137 million users, China’s internet penetration is 10%, as compared to about 3.5% (or 40 million people) for India. But India’s literacy rate is 60%, which means that 56.5% of the population—or 9 out of every 10 literate people—are not even using the internet. For blogs to burgeon, Indians may simply have to acquire computers and internet connections. Network effects mean that the number of blogs will grow much faster than the number of internet connections.

Even if internet penetration becomes comparable, arguing that India and China should have the same number of bloggers as a percentage of the population is absurd. That’s because the availability of substitutes—a free media, for example—and differences in social and behavioural patterns come into play.

One of the blogosphere’s favourite rants is the sheer amount of drivel that gets published each day. So surely it’s a the good thing that Indians expect better quality of writing from their blogs. And that about 1.2 million of them feel—rightly or wrongly—that they’ve made the grade. [See Spaceman Spiff’s findings]

Foreign Policy magazine is entitled to retain its bias. But it hurts its own credibility by publishing superficial polemic and poorly constructed arguments which even half-serious bloggers would avoid making.

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