Let’s be very clear: television news channels are not irresponsible, nor are they in any way responsible for their actions.
You are. The economy is, stupid. The coronavirus, the Chinese, the CBI, ED, NCB, Mumbai Police, Maharashtra government, Bihar government, Narendra Modi government, Baba Ramdev, Kangana Ranaut, why, even Sushant Singh Rajput, his family, and Rhea Chakraborty —these are the people and institutions who must be held guilty and jailed without bail for 14 days (at least) for TV coverage of the investigations into the Bollywood actor’s death.
Two ‘private’ videos and this anchor
News channels, their prime time anchors, their reporters have been aided and abetted, nay, forced to do what they have done. On Zee News, Tuesday, anchor Sudhir Chaudhary explained why the channel had decided to telecast two ‘private’ videos of Rajput (circa February 2020), which suggest, he said, that the actor had taken drugs: “We didn’t want to show these videos but janta iss kadar janna chahati hai… (the public’s interest level is such…)’’ that the channel has been compelled to run them — on a day Chakraborty was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for procuring drugs.
Navika Kumar at Times Now said it was the desire to unearth the “truth” that had driven the channel’s “relentless focus” on the case over “86 days of painstaking reportage”, which included “45 drug chat exposes… 36 sting operations… 15 stunning eyewitness accounts” and over 2,000 hours of air time. She asked her “dear viewers” if it wasn’t right to pursue the truth, to demand justice, and find “closure for a deceased’s family…’’
See, it’s your fault. When Republic TV’s road runners plastered their faces and rammed microphones into the window of the vehicle Chakraborty was seated inside, and demanded answers from her, they did it in your name: “Republic Bharat poochhta hai…” aka ‘The Nation Wants to Know’.
Deepak Chaurasia on News Nation, Monday, claimed that 79 per cent of viewers said, “Kangana ka apman nahin sahega Hindustan (India won’t tolerate Kangana’s insult)” and then proceeded to lash out at all comers on their behalf.
You watched, they showed
The news channels have abided by the verdict of the people as reflected in the television ratings, or the TRPs which indicate that in recent weeks, Republic TV, Republic Bharat, Times Now and Aaj Tak are the most watched news channels. These are the channels leading the pursuit of #JusticeForSushant for the last two months, with continuous coverage. On the three days that Chakraborty was interrogated by the NCB, the live feed began outside her home by 9 am and continued till 11 pm — maybe even later. That’s 14 hours. Surely one for the record books.
The viewer has been a captive audience, breakfasting and feasting all day on ‘drug chats’ as Zee News called the leaked WhatsApp messages between Chakraborty, her brother and other accused. And that’s because millions are confined to quarters due to the coronavirus and have nothing better to do.
Yes, the pandemic is responsible for TV news coverage of SSR.
An already weak economy caught the virus and saw the GDP plunge by nearly 24 per cent, job losses mount to 21 million in the salaried work force, and a government in disarray — the last thing it wanted was for news channels to ring the alarm bells on governance, corona or the economy.
You can blame corona too
Millions, meanwhile, have been stuck at home for six months, surrounded by gloom and doom, restrictions, restrictions, restrictions — all these depress as much as do nearly 90,000 new Covid cases each day. The last thing anyone wants is to watch is experts moan about how bad things are.
You want something, impersonal, to divert your attention — what better than a Bollywood ‘pot’ boiler (forgive the pun) – Sushant, Rhea aur Ganja? As the positivity rate of Covid infections increased, the news channels’ pursuit of Chakraborty and the ‘murderer’ of Rajput intensified (India TV) and higher the TRPs rose. Channels scaled new heights: India TV discovered the escape route for the ‘murderers’ of Rajput via the rooftop of his home; it had doctors study drawings of his ‘strangulation’, it considered how he may have been ‘poisoned’.
China and Ramdev also played their part
Now, if China had launched a full-blooded attack on India, the news channels would have abandoned Chakraborty to her fate and flown directly to the LAC but as it was, our neighbour was merely shooting in the dark – and into the air—which diverted some channels like NewsX, NDTV 24×7 and CNN News 18 for a while — but it couldn’t possibly rival the arrest of Rhea, for eyeballs, could it?
The likes of Ramdev are equally to blame. If he didn’t lavishly sponsor news channels, if other advertisers didn’t support them either, they would have collapsed by now or changed track.
And if the viewership rating agency, BARC, didn’t insist on releasing weekly viewership ratings, nobody would know that Republic was ahead of the pack. As it is, news channels – and advertisers – watch it like a hawk, and play follow the leader, doing what they can to catch up. What else explains India Today’s ‘exclusive’ interview with Chakraborty? It was to steal the thunder, generate viewership and make news, which of course it did.
Media became the mob
The critics of the news channels who have mourned the death of TV news – NDTV 24×7 and NewsX, both featured memorial debates on the weekend while social media was awash with obituaries – only made their competitors more determined than ever to continue down the road to perdition. At least that’s how the critics see it.
Overnight, the media became the mob, enraged by those who dared to question it – after all, it’s the media which asks the questions, right? And isn’t that just what it was doing when it fairly lynched Chakraborty as she made her way into NCB offices in Mumbai, Sunday?
As for the rest, if the Mumbai Police had conducted a more efficient investigation, if there wasn’t an election in Bihar, the Bihar government may not have interfered, the BJP government at the Centre may not have sent in the CBI and ED, and if the latter had found any incriminating evidence then the NCB may not have been involved — and there would have been no drug case.
Is it the fault of the news channels that these agencies insisted on leaking information to them? If the NCB wanted to provide minute-by-minute commentary on Chakraborty’s interrogation since Monday, could the news channels have refused? Don’t be silly.
That brings us to Kangana Ranaut: nobody forced her to give Arnab Goswami that interview in July which set Republic off in hot, self-righteous pursuit of all that is evil. She thrust herself into the limelight even though she admitted she had never met Rajput. And then she had to go and pick a fight with the Maharashtra government, get herself `Y’ security coverage – is it any wonder news channels followed her from Manali to Chandigarh airport to capture the first shots of her as she walked in a charmed circle of CRPF personnel and onto the plane? How could they resist such offerings?
That leaves Rhea Chakraborty: well, obviously she is to blame for everything. Without her, the news channels would be attacking Lutyens’ media, the Khan Market gang, Rahul Gandhi…
Views are personal.