There are three very good reasons why you ought to watch television news nowadays — and a better one for why you should not.
First, watch television to bear witness to Cyclone Tauktae— the destruction and distress it left in its wake as it careened through state after state.
Two, continue to watch TV for the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic—the removal of plasma therapy from India’s official treatment protocol, the new DRDO drug, the rise in deaths, the decline in cases, along with a dip in testing too, or the latest government actions or announcements.
Three, watch TV news as it travels through the country, especially rural India, in the Hindi heartland— to uncover realities of the healthcare system, a flotilla of bodies in rivers, sandcastle graves along the shores, or the show-no-show of vaccines.
We’ll get to these in a moment. But before that, here’s why, under no circumstances, should you watch television news channels when they do what they accuse opposition parties of doing — play politics. (What else should politicians play, gilli-danda?)
And the reason you shouldn’t watch this politicking is that it distracts from and diminishes the far, far more critical coronavirus crisis. Who cares about the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress or other parties, when thousands — 4,000 plus by government’s own estimates — are dying of the virus every day, or when a cyclone is ripping through the West coast at a 120 km wind speed (Aaj Tak)?
‘Stop politics, help people’
It seems TV news channels care. This week, they have been playing day and night games with politics. It began Sunday, with debates about ‘Modi ji’ posters – and how ‘Oppn mocks Modi’ (Times Now), with the likes of Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Jairam Ramesh (NDTV 24×7) daring the government to arrest them over a poster questioning Modi’s vaccine policy that led to the arrest of at least 25 people in Delhi.
Come Monday, there was a tremendous commotion all day over ‘TMC ministers arrested’ (ABP News), ‘Mamata at CBI office—high drama expected’ (Republic TV) — ‘violent protests outside’ (CNN News18) on English news channels. Hindi news channels, wisely and largely, ignored this latest BJP-TMC encounter in Kolkata, but made it their talking point in the evening — Zee News, India TV, and Aaj Tak.
Tuesday saw the BJP’s latest ‘toolkit’, which leading channels like Times Now, CNN News18, Aaj Tak, Zee News only too readily tinkered with: they devoted news coverage and prime time debates to the BJP allegation about a Congress document that, according to the likes of Sambit Patra, defamed the country and the Prime Minister. The Congress claims this is fake.
Anchor Amish Devgan (News18 India) spoke for all of us when he said, ‘Stop Politics, help people’—the ‘toolkit’ can wait, he added. There is a third wave of the pandemic coming and we need to think about how we can save our children, he chided his political guests.
Preeti Chaudhary on India Today asked hard questions of BJP’s Gopal Agarwal– is this a ‘toolkit’ of BJP against Congress?
Wednesday, the BJP produced ‘evidence’ about the alleged author of the ‘toolkit’ —and again, some news channels suspended judgement and disbelief to give this wide circulation.
Why did channels waste time on this non-story? No one knew about this alleged ‘toolkit’ until the BJP and TV news outed it—now, everyone knows what it allegedly says — but does it matter to us? Why did news channels, even those that panned the politicians, not just ignore the non-issue, confine it to ticker-tape news updates? Did they believe ‘toolkit’ TV confrontations increase their TRPs? Did they think the ‘toolkit’ and Modi posters are headline news at a time like this?
Difficult to believe and sad if they did because otherwise, their reporters have done a fine job reporting on the cyclone, standing up to its fury in their raincoats. From NDTV India, India Today and Republic TV to Times Now, ABP News, Zee News, India TV, they’ve all been out there in Mumbai, Goa, and Gujarat—and they have also brought us inspiring accounts of rescue at sea by the Navy.
Covid moves to rural India
News channels have chased the coronavirus wherever it went: in Nahar Singh village, Uttar Pradesh, the health centre was locked — ”the doctor comes sometimes,’’ said a villager (Times Now). In Tundla village, UP, the doctor comes once a week— there are no facilities, said an elderly gentleman.
NDTV India went to Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh where long queues of the dead lined up, CNN News18 was in Katihar, UP, where no one came for tests — “There are no computers, no doctors and we don’t know how to go online,” revealed one villager — and the health centre had one abandoned bed.
Mirror Now visited the Goa hospital where 83 died, India TV the shoreline of the Ganga where nobody knew how many had died. India Today stood by the ‘river of sorrow’ in Prayagraj and witnessed the last rites of the dead performed in broad daylight.
All channels told tales of tragedy, of a healthcare system that had broken down long ago but which they have helped expose now, due to the pandemic.
Let’s end on a less sombre note: Shehzad Poonawala is an all-purpose unguided missile. He shoots, indiscriminately, at all BJP opponents, real or imagined. All day and all of the night, daily, he appears on Times Now as an expert commentator and launches broadsides — this week, against the TMC on the Narada case, the Congress on ‘toolkit’, and Wednesday he pooh-poohed Kejriwal on the Singapore ‘strain’—yes some channels called it that.
Can’t Times Now find anyone else?
Views are personal