Thursday, 30 June, 2022
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Doctors are back on TV for Omicron, but channels distracted with Aishwarya, Jaya

‘Don’t drop your mask’ is the news channels' verdict and it was business as usual in parliament. But Aishwarya's ED case & Jaya's meltdown went prime time.

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It’s back, they’re back. “Omicron alarm in India” flashed CNN News 18 as we saw a return of the doctors to TV news studios. While India Today warned of the ‘super mutant’, ‘monster surge’, Times Now said ‘government body predicts 3rd wave’. The stethoscopes were out and from the looks of it, the prognosis is bleak.

‘Brace for Omicron’, warned India Today; ‘Omicron threat ON THE RISE’, predicted News X; ‘Don’t drop your mask’,  pleaded Mirror Now, which has been advising viewers to ‘mask up’ since the second wave, last summer.

The good doctors are not sticking out their necks or tongues, no matter how much news anchors badger them or ask if Omicron is a.) equally or more dangerous than the Delta variant and b.) if the next wave will be on the same scale as the latter. According to doctors, Omicron’s ‘symptoms can range from mild to severe’, reported CNN News 18, which, when you think about it, tells us nothing at all. Even on the booster dose, which is being tom-tommed in the United States, doctors on TV were ambivalent. An NDTV 24×7 video poll of doctors across the country found them divided between ‘Yes, No or Maybe’.

Panel discussions across Hindi and English news channels featured medical gurus, after a gap of several months. They told us about the variant that we already knew — that the variant was highly contagious. They also repeated what Dr Amanda Coetzee, who discovered the Omicron variant in South Africa, said to CNN News 18 — use your commonsense: wear masks, take vaccines and avoid crowds.

Was anybody listening? To their dismay, TV news channels found that despite their best efforts or those of the governments’ and the medical fraternity’s, the public seemed to be deaf to health warnings.

The Big ‘O’ has seen news channels increase their coverage of the coronavirus and over the last fortnight, reporters have visited potential hotspots in different cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, where Omicron cases are rising, only to be disappointed by what they found.


Also Read: ‘Har Har Modi’ in Kashi – TV channels gave Modi a mythical status & aura none can challenge


Situation in New Delhi and Mumbai

A fortnight ago, India TV went to an overcrowded Dadar wholesale vegetable market in Mumbai and uncovered maskless shoppers. At a Gurugram fair, India Ahead confronted one of the hundreds of people who hadn’t ‘masked up’.

“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” asked the incensed reporter.

‘Why should I?’ replied the man, angrily, “It isn’t my mistake, it’s the government’s — let it ensure that everyone wears a mask and then so will I.’’

Next, we’ll be asking the government to breathe for us.

This week, when Republic TV was at the New Delhi Railway Station, the reporter found people without masks and social distancing — this, when she said, “26 per cent of the cases are in Delhi.” India Today’s reporter in Mumbai added that there were “huge gatherings everywhere”. “Everyone ought to wear a mask,” said one man, rather sanctimoniously to the Mirror Now reporter when she visited Dadar, Mumbai.

“Then why are you not wearing one?” demanded the exasperated reporter, to which there was no reply.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” concluded the anchor on NDTV 24×7’s ‘Left Right and Centre’ show on Tuesday, after outlining the many challenges ahead including the issue of booster shots, the danger of a maskless public, limited testing, and large crowds at elections, weddings, and festivities that continue “unabated.”

“There’s a real threat of a third wave,” he said ominously.

“102 new cases in Delhi,” reported NDTV 24×7 on Wednesday afternoon, confirming his worst fears.


Also Read: Covering CDS Gen Bipin Rawat’s death, TV news turned sober—in a long time


Bollywood love affair continues

While Omicron was very much the headline of the week, it had some competition on Monday when news channels indulged in their continuing love affair with Bollywood, this time in the form of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and coincidentally, her mother-in-law, Jaya Bachchan.

Aishwarya’s arrival in Delhi on Monday, after being “summoned” by the Enforcement Directorate in the Panama Papers case, gave news channels an excuse to run clips of the actress walking down the ramp, posing in stunning outfits throughout the day, even as anchors talked about her interrogation.

“ED asking her pointed questions,” said Times Now, which claimed it had “managed” to speak to some officials in on the interrogation; Zee News did a graphic representation of the ED officials questioning the actor — who is leaking ED’s Q&A to the media, or is that a stupid question?

Meanwhile, ABP News said she could be called again for more questioning — a case of wishful thinking?

Aishwarya may have been even more in the limelight had she not been rescued by Jaya Bachchan. News channels switched suddenly, on Monday evening, from her to Jaya Bachchan’s “meltdown” in the parliament earlier in the day when she ‘curses’ the Narendra Modi government (Times Now). The clip was played again and again all evening, well into Tuesday. Channels like Times Now and Republic TV thought it important enough to feature in prime time debates.

Tuesday saw interviews with Bachchan by some channels including NDTV 24×7. When reminded of her ‘curse’, she half-turned away and smiled.


Also Read: Thank god for Netflix and Vir Das. India’s craving comedy and satire, but TVs are a no-go


In parliament, it’s business as usual

Last, let’s visit parliament where it was business as usual: ‘Rajya Sabha adjourned till 2 pm’, announced News X on Monday. That was a common refrain throughout this winter session, and the monsoon session before that, and the Budget session before that… It has now become the standard operating procedure of parliament to adjourn the moment it assembles – or more accurately, after the Question Hour.

The image of parliament we take away from this is that of the government and Opposition MPs at each other’s throats, of constant disruptions and protests inside and outside the house. Since this is commonplace for each session, perhaps Sansad TV should be disbanded — its USP is to broadcast parliamentary proceedings, but when those are suspended almost daily, what’s the point of wasting public funds on it?

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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