What is the difference between DD News and private news channels like a Times Now or a Republic TV? Not much, come to think of it.
At least, not this week.
If, amid the catastrophic surge in coronavirus cases across the country totalling 55 per cent of all global cases (India Today), DD News decided that the most urgent topic to discuss on Tuesday prime time was Delhi’s five-star Ashoka Hotel’s conversion into a Covid-19 facility for the high court’s judges and staff by the AAP government, so did Times Now, the same night.
If DD News constantly urged viewers to remain calm and ‘Mask Up’, Republic TV exhorted us #StayStrongIndia. And when DD News rattled off the names of all the countries that have offered India assistance, Republic TV boasted, ‘World is with India’.
This is positive messaging at its best, and not of the Covid-19 kind, either. Like vaccines, it’s being used to boost our immunity system – our psychological and emotional immunity – in these dark and deadly days.
Discussion replaces debate
Uncharacteristically, the combative, divisive political shouting games that play out on such news channels have been shunned, replaced by Q&As with doctors – on Republic TV and Times Now, besides NDTV 24×7 and India Today, which had made a habit of holding medical advice sessions since the pandemic hit us last year.
DD News has taken this to another level – it runs a daily ‘Doctors Speak’ for several hours — morning, afternoon and evening — as if it was a general hospital OPD.
‘Hear the experts – What is the science of wearing masks’ is not the kind of headline you’d expect to see on Times Now debate but there it was Monday evening on ‘Janta Jawaab Maange’ with Rahul Shivshankar’; ‘What more should India do now?’ Republic TV asked its panel of medicine men. Well, well, well, as Alice in Wonderland might have observed if she could have observed Indian news TV.
Behind the change in programme
Why do private channels look and sound like DD News? Perhaps because in this national emergency of incalculable human proportions, the political spin they usually give an issue, won’t quite work this time — it’s difficult to pin this on Rahul Gandhi, Lutyens’ Delhi, the ‘tukde tukde gang’, et cetra, et cetra, for the ravages of the virus, although CNN News 18 gave it tweak, Friday with ‘Anti-India lobbies highjacking narrative…’
It’s proving equally difficult to peddle a narrative that makes the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party look better than the other political parties when Uttar Pradesh is the second worst-hit state by Covid-19, currently, from where heartrending stories emerge — ‘No tests, no kits’, said Mirror Now after its correspondent called up 10 clinical laboratories in Lucknow and found five refuse tests and the other five say they had no test kits.
NDTV India talked to relatives of three patients who died due to lack of oxygen at a Meerut hospital; ABP found long lines for oxygen in Lucknow and furious people in Ghaziabad accusing the government of lying about the easy availability of the breath of life…
For once, then, the toxicity was missing from the usual suspects: “We will fight this and will emerge victorious’, pronounced Republic TV — just the kind of cheerleading you would expect on DD News.
Is this the new narrative, for now? Yes and no. The leading news channels haven’t abdicated the responsibility to report the situation on the ground, “gasping”, for example, at what NDTV India called the ‘national oxygen emergency’ — “20 die gasping for oxygen in Delhi,” reported Times Now.
That’s not a headline you will read on DD News — along with urging viewers to wear masks, the national broadcaster appears to have washed its hand of bad news.
The DD presenters
The masked news presenters of DD News provide a sanitised version of each day’s developments. First, you will hear of all the measures the central government has taken, will take or is planning to take to fight the virus; you will receive very useful data on Covid-19, usually beginning with the number of people vaccinated, followed by the number of people tested, the recovery rate and then the fresh number of cases and deaths. There is a wrap-up of state numbers, lockdowns, etc. And then, maybe the Oscars…
Thereafter, DD News holds counseling sessions with experts.
You will see none of the coverage you do on other news channels, or experience “the sense of abandonment”, as BBC World termed it, of a people “left to do what the government should have done”.
Of people dragging bodies to the crematorium (Aaj Tak), tying them to the roof of their cars (NDTV 24×7), transporting them in three-wheelers (Mirror Now) – bodies piled up on top of each other like sacks of potato, in ambulances (News X), bodies waiting to be cremated by despairing families (Republic TV)… bodies, bodies “burning bright” in the forest of the night, city after city (Zee Hindustan).
You will not see the O2 queues of empty cylinders alongside people (India TV), while one patient received oxygen in an ambulance (India Today) and another sat in an ambulance without any oxygen (NDTV 24×7); you will not see the black market for oxygen (News 18 India), and in Patna, where it sells for Rs 50,000 a cylinder, according to Zee News.
On DD News, there’s little about the hunt for the drug remdesivir, of no beds in hospitals (India Today in Raipur and Delhi), of no admission in hospitals (ABP News) or the newly-created hospital facilities in Delhi’s Chhattarpur (India TV) — a man screamed, insanely, outside the Sardar Patel Centre after he had waited three hours to admit his mother: she died in the autorickshaw.
In the face of all the evidence piling up, like the bodies, DD News has remained steadfast in its determination to report, as far as possible, constructive news developments, to convey the greatest human tragedy a post-Partition generation has seen through numbers.
And maybe, it’s the right way: maybe, we do need one channel where we don’t have to watch our version of the Apocalypse Now or Contagion, every hour — didn’t the poet T.S Eliot warn us, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)