Foundation media trip reveals
dynamic India

Four journalists gained a small taste of the complexities and contrasts of a country of 1.3 billion people on the Asia New Zealand Foundation's first media trip to India.

Journalists Chris Chang and Jason Walls describe their time in India

Chris Chang (1 News and member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network), Tom McRae (Newshub), Juliet Rowan (Bay of Plenty Times) and Jason Walls (National Business Review) spent a week in the country in September, accompanied by the Foundation's media adviser Rebecca Palmer.

The programme was designed to coincide with the East-West Center's International Media Conference in New Delhi, which brought together hundreds of journalists from across the Asia-Pacific. 

The group's programme started in Mumbai, where they met two members of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network, Vinny Lohan and Rikky Minocha, as well as Aafreen Vaz, an Otago University graduate who is now breaking into Bollywood while also studying medicine. Rowan wrote about the "bright young Indian talents educated in New Zealand".

India is a growing market for Zespri, and the company's Mumbai staff led the group through its India supply chain, including a visit to a fruit market. They also explained Zespri's approach to marketing in India.

Next it was on to Delhi, where the journalists visited Asia's largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market, Azadpur Mandi, dodging trucks, cows and men carrying stacks of fruit boxes.

Image of a street in India - a man pulls along a cart of coloured boxes

The journalists saw some of the vast contrasts of India's booming economy

The market visits were a highlight – but also a challenge – for Chris Chang, who was shooting a piece for 1 News. “There wasn’t the luxury of being able to put my tripod down, spend a few minutes shooting, and then move on. Also, I didn’t want to get lost among 25 million people."

The group later visited the slum of Kusumpur Pahari, located beside an upscale area of Delhi. The visit was organised by Asha Society, a charity that runs educational, healthcare and social programmes that benefit around half a million slum dwellers in Delhi. The journalists met college students who live in the slum, as well as members of the women's association.

Rowan interviewed slum resident Jeetu Chewla, who landed a job at the New Zealand High Commission after initially interning there through an Asha programme.  

Other meetings included a visit to Sulabh International, a sanitation NGO that has constructed 1.3 million household toilets and 640 community toilet blocks across India.

New Zealand High Commissioner Grahame Morton hosted the journalists to dinner, also inviting a group of Delhi journalists, commentators, businesspeople and NGO representatives. 

Finally, the East West Center's International Media Conference provided an overview of India's foreign policy, economic integration, and the state of the media.

The conference also delved into issues around the Asia-Pacific. Juliet Rowan moderated a panel on media coverage of Northeast Asia cross-border challenges with journalists from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, while Tom McRae was one of the panelists in a session on international perspectives of the US elections.

McRae describes the conference as a “fantastic insight into how journalists around the world work and the problems and challenges they face”.

The chance to see how people work and live in India was equally worthwhile, McRae says.  “From walking through the flower market in Mumbai, to the slum in Delhi, and even just walking the streets and soaking in the sounds, smells, and atmosphere was fantastic. There is nothing like actually going to a place and experiencing it for yourself.”

Jason Walls was able to interview Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, who shared her views on India's trade relationship with New Zealand and prospects for an FTA.

Walls said the trip gave him a better understanding of India's system of government, its taxes and its economy. "In the conference one of the speakers was critical of India’s slow-moving processes and how reform takes too long. After talking to India’s commerce minister, it makes sense that things can sometimes be slow – as India is just so big."

Image of journalists chatting to young Indian students

Juliet Rowan (right) says in some ways India has changed a lot since she visited 20 years ago, in other ways it is exactly the same

Rowan, who blogged throughout the trip, had first visited India 20 years earlier. “In some ways, it had changed - there were no satellite dishes in the slums when I last visited, or women and men on the streets together, or women wearing anything but sari for that matter. But in other ways, it had not changed at all – there were still slums everywhere, children begging on the streets, and fewer women out in public than men.

A Mumbai journalist told her India remained conservative in certain respects, including in the caste system and arranged marriages.  “But despite the underlying conservatism he spoke of, I found everyone we talked to very politically aware and outward-looking and I got to see a much more sophisticated side of India this time.

“The energy on the streets and in the markets showed India to be a land of huge opportunity.”

The trip has increased her interest in reporting on the India-New Zealand relationship. “There is a sizeable Indian population in the Bay of Plenty and I feel interested in getting to know more about their perceptions of life in New Zealand and their place in this community.”