Sound bites, political speak, media spin, tabloid sensationalism, propaganda and misinformation are the media's language. How do you see through the lies and discover the truth? Be discerning; critically analyse what you are being told. The media does not have a responsibility to report the news honestly; profit is the purpose of the media corporation. They answer to their shareholders. News and advertising is their product. The viewing public are their consumer. No Conspiracy theories here.
High tech wizardry and mediaeval squalor live side by side in the world's largest democracy.
Numbers are a blessing for newspaper correspondents in India. Thanks to the subcontinent's vast population there is invariably an enormous total to spice up any story.
The electorate alone is a marvel - there were 714 million eligible voters at the last national poll, nearly twice the number of electors for the European Parliament. India's biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, is home to 200 million people - more than Brazil - and would be the world's fifth most populous country if it were a separate nation. Even the road toll holds a gruesome fascination because of its sheer magnitude. More than 120,000 die on Indian roads each year, the equivalent to obliterating the population of Darwin or Toowoomba.
Numbers can also paint a vivid picture of the sweeping changes taking place in India. An example is the astounding growth in mobile phone subscriptions. When I arrived in New Delhi in late 2007 to take up my post as the correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, there were 234 million Indian mobile phone subscribers. Just two years later India had reached the landmark of 500 million subscribers. Now the total has soared to 770 million. Last November, 23 million new subscribers were added - more than the population of Australia in 30 days.
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The growth in mobiles is one episode in what economists and investment bankers call the ''India story''. It's a rollicking economic tale of a country's journey from the stifling regulation, or "licence raj", of the 1960s and 1970s to a fast growing, tech-savvy economic tiger.
India is the fourth largest economy in the world (on the basis of purchasing power parity) and accounts for nearly 5 per cent of global gross domestic product. Its share of world trade has trebled in the past 20 years and it is now Australia's third biggest export market. The Reserve Bank says the Indian economy is ''likely to continue to expand at a relatively rapid pace in coming decades and to become an increasingly important part of the world economy''.
Growth is forecast to accelerate above 9 per cent this year and pundits believe it is only a matter of time before India overtakes China as the fastest growing major economy.
As India's economic importance grows, so does its political clout. The procession of world leaders calling on New Delhi is one tangible indicator of India's strategic significance. In the space of a few months last year the heads of state from each permanent member of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, China, Britain, France and Russia - all paid a visit. The US President, Barack Obama, won hearts in Delhi in November when he said India ''is not simply an emerging power but now is a world power''.
India's euphoric victory in this month's cricket world cup final fits with a mood that its time has come. "The World at Our Feet," screamed a headline in The Times of India the morning after triumph.
And yet the numbers show India is a very poor world power. Its per capita income is $US1265 ($1207) according the International Monetary Fund's latest estimate. That's less than one third of China's and just 2.7 per cent of America's. The 2010 United Nations Human Development Index, a measure that combines income, education and life expectancy, ranked India at 119th out of 169 countries. That's only one place above East Timor. China was 30 places higher than India and Russia was 54 places up the list.
In India, more than 700 million people survive on less than $US2 a day and about 42 per cent of children aged five or less are under-weight. A UN report found there are 421 million Indians living in ''multi-dimensional'' poverty, a greater number than in Africa's 26 poorest countries combined.
Rapid economic change in India has created confronting anomalies. High-tech wizardry and medieval squalor live side by side. It is possible to access fast wireless broadband in villages where children are dying of starvation and thanks to the explosive growth of mobiles, more Indians probably have access to phone calls than toilets.
There is mounting evidence that the spoils of economic growth have become disproportionately concentrated among a small group of super-rich industrialists. Research by the former World Bank economist Michael Walton shows the combined worth of India's US dollar billionaires rose from the equivalent of 1.7 per cent of India's gross domestic product in 1999 to a peak of 23 per cent in 2008.
India's economic miracle, so often lauded abroad, is contested at home. Three of India's 28 states have communist governments. Leftist political parties, critical of India's economic trajectory, are an influential force in politics. India's dynamic volunteer sector, which includes tens of thousands of non-government organisations, has produced an army of activists who decry the social and environmental damage being done amid India's rapid development.
The sense of alienation and anger among India's poor has helped stoke a bloody Maoist rebellion in its most destitute regions. These insurgents - called Naxals after the eastern Indian village of Naxalbari where the movement began - are active in more than one-third of India's 626 districts. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has branded them ''the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country''.
But they are not alone. Security forces are also battling rebellions in the Kashmir Valley and in the restless north-east. India's insurrections have complex roots but poverty is almost always a major contributor.
Compounding the political complexities created by India's poverty is its cultural diversity. Twenty-two different languages are recognised by India's constitution and scores of other dialects are commonly spoken. Hundreds of millions of people identify deeply with cultural and religious traditions that are thousands of years old. The British historian Michael Wood says Indian children "will grow up in a global superpower and yet still know what it means to belong to an ancient civilisation''.
Dr Singh talks about the importance of ''inclusive growth'' across India but it has been difficult to achieve. With half of India's population - about 600 million people - aged 25 or less, India will be hard pressed to find meaningful employment for its increasingly aspirational population. About one million Indians are expected to enter the workforce every month for the next 20 years. But jobs growth is not nearly matching this flood of supply.
The World Bank estimates the proportion of Indians living on less than $US1 per day (in 2005 purchasing power parity) fell from 42 per cent in 1981 to 24 per cent in 2005 but population growth meant the actual number of people living below that poverty benchmark was only reduced from 296 million to 266 million in that period.
In a new book, the British writer and historian Patrick French criticises journalists who "make a living by reporting ceaseless tales of woe" from the subcontinent. He is right to challenge the outdated stereotype of India as a poverty-stricken basket case but the media obsession with India's growth rate, urban middle-class and super-rich entrepreneurs can also be misleading.
Despite rapid economic and social change in India, poverty still has a profound influence, especially on politics. No political party in India can succeed without the support of the country's poor rural masses.
Some analysts have attributed an apparent middle-class disengagement from mainstream politics to the power exerted by poorer ''vote blocks''. Very low voter turnouts in wealthy neighbourhoods of Mumbai and Delhi are cited as evidence of this apathy. But if the middle class cannot hold sway at the ballot box, it exerts influence in other ways.
This booming cohort, estimated to number between 100 million to 300 million, has been labelled the ''most economically dynamic group on the planet'' by Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, an India specialist at Lancaster University. Its members staff the IT firms and call centres that have given India its reputation as a global technology leader. It is also one of the world's most lucrative and fastest-growing consumer markets.
The author Nalin Mehta says there is a strong perception among the urban middle class that India is finally taking its rightful place near the top of the international order and that neither it, nor its citizens, should be pushed around.
Elements of the giant media industry, including dozens of news channels pumping out stories 24 hours a day, pander to this sentiment.
Australia experienced this raw nationalism after a spate of violent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009 and 2010. The attacks received blanket coverage in the Indian media and Australia's image was damaged.
''It had an element of middle-class students being victimised,'' said Mehta. ''It also had elements of racial and national pride. That's what made the story so sexy for channels targeting India's primary viewing audience.''
The reaction in India to the attacks underscored the power of its electronic media. But the crisis also exposed a lack of understanding about India in Australia. Several ill-informed attempts by Australian politicians and officials to hose down anger over the attacks caused even deeper offence. As I watched the media frenzy from Delhi it was clear that widespread ignorance of Indian culture and society in Australia had only made matters worse.
In the heat of the crisis, the government acknowledged the need for Australia to do more to understand the world's biggest democracy.
The then deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, announced funding for a new Australia-India Institute at the University of Melbourne to ''promote specialised knowledge'' about India. She said the government was committed to building Australian understanding of India, its culture, its history and its place in the world.
It was a good initiative but Australia needs to do much more. India's scale, diversity and poverty make it a rising power like no other. We must get to know it better.