Attacks on Indians 'damaged' bilateral ties: McCarthy

Racial assaults: Oz envoy blames media for negative coverage


Blaming the Indian media, particularly the 'voracious' 24-hour cable news channels for the 'negative coverage' of the attacks, Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi, John McCarthy said that the relationship between the two nations will take time to recover.

McCarthy, who was quoted by 'The Weekend Australian' here said that due to such coverage by India's TV channels fear and outrage was being created among Indians in both countries.

"While our bilateral relationship with India - including talks over a free-trade agreement - would probably remain quarantined from the fallout, the new, negative perception of Australia would linger," he said.

"It's done damage," McCarthy said adding "You can't have three weeks of that sort of television without the perception of Australia among Indians being damaged. The question is how much?

"My sense is we will overcome it, but it's going to take time and it's going to need a pretty close look at how we prepare students for Australia. We need to be much more conscious of their safety," he said. Australia had almost 95,000 Indian students in its various educational institutions. At least dozens of racial attacks have taken place against Indian students in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in less than a month.

Australia's best allies were India's political and business leaders "who can see this problem in perspective ... and can compare it with what happens in other parts of the world, including in their own country, which they frequently make comments to me about," McCarthy added, in a reference to India's historical caste and communal clashes.

McCarthy, who will head back home in August, has been spending weeks in damage control mode, giving interviews and meeting people to try to dispel the notion the attacks were all racially motivated.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had also phoned his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to assure him Australia is doing all it can to address the problem.

McCarthy said most Indian media eventually gave context to the attacks by reporting that many victims lived in outer suburbs and took public transport late at night, making them more vulnerable to crime.

But the cable channels were "dominated to a significant extent by the comments coming out of the student unions which did not always reflect the total student membership or the Indian community". "Two or three stories go on and on and very violent and disturbing pictures are shown over and over again. What happens then is immediately people with relatives in Australia get on the phone," McCarthy said.

"This seems to cause far more debate about the situation. Then you get the next stage, which is probably a demonstration, which looks much worse, and it fuels on itself," he added.

He said Australia had thousands of Indians students and "they haven't all been writing letters and emails. A number of them have been saying 'we're fine'. But they weren't the ones getting heard."

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