Welcome to Bakra news where what you see is, and then again, sometimes, is not.
For those who have had the pleasure of watching comedian Cyrus Broacha in his younger days, he used to present a popular show MTV Bakra in which he and his colleagues enacted a make-belief scene to dupe unsuspecting individuals and when she/he fell for it, they were declared the ‘bakra’ of the episode.
Now, doesn’t it remind you of news television today where they paint a certain scenario and then do everything in their power to convince us that it’s the true picture — and we follow them like meek bakras?
The way TV news has presented Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is the obvious example: it is now swirling in a haze of drugs (‘hash’ tag SSR), clouded by WhatsApp messages, sting operations, video snatches, hearsay, views and interpretations— and most viewers have come to believe there is more than a little fishy about his death.
No exclusive journalism
A heady mix of real locations, alleged eyewitness accounts and their versions of the ‘truth’ are presented as exclusive, conclusive proof – and yet just over three months after he died, and TV’s investigations, all we can say is that Rajput took drugs.
Currently, we are attending ‘drug parties’ and ‘Drugwood’ as Zee News termed Bollywood’s “drug cartels”, with Sushant Rajput and Rhea Chakraborty et al, at his farmhouse — “Kya-kya hota thha wahan?” asked News 24, its tongue fairly hanging out in anticipation.
We are also visiting Chakraborty in prison (India TV), talking to a boatman (India Today), guards as various venues, including at the apartment building where Rajput’s former manager Disha Salian had fallen to her death (Republic TV). We are watching CCTV footage outside the star’s farmhouse to establish who went in and who came out (Aaj Tak) and talking to the caretaker about the place where, we are being told, demonic drug cocktails, dinners and who knows what else were consumed by all and sundry.
No wonder, the coverage is being questioned, parodied, criticised by everyone from journalists and the foreign media to politicians and actors, from social media to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court intervening in the freedom of the press is that last thing anyone could want.
Sudarshan News isn’t journalism
As it happens, it is Sudharshan News’ series, ‘UPSC jihad’, and not the SSR case that attracted the Supreme Court’s strictures and comments on TV news coverage.
The first episode of the ‘investigative’ series claims ‘USPC jihad ka khulaasa’ and alleges that the UPSC examinations for admission to the civil services favour Muslims. In graph after graph of data, the editor-in-chief of the channel, Suresh Chavhanke, claims that at every step of the way, Muslims are given grace marks or other benefits. He detailed 10 different categories in which he alleged favouritism including financial assistance, language and subjects advantage, age benefit, qualifying marks levels, and higher marks in the interview.
All of this is passed off as unvarnished truth without a shred of evidence, any sources for the data/figures or supporting interviews with UPSC authorities or candidates to substantiate the claims. Nothing, in fact, that you would call journalism.
But Sudharshan News is an extreme example. Other mainstream channels are also giving themselves a bad name with questionable practices.
The ‘heights’ of reporting
Consider some examples. A bespectacled man, dressed in a khakhi uniform, approaches the remains of actor Kangana Ranaut’s Mumbai office that was demolished by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). He is immediately encircled by TV news crews. And all of you who have seen the clip that was widely shared on social media, know what follows. He is repeatedly asked, “Kyon toda?”. He tries to tell them, “Arre madam, postman hai main! (I am the postman)” but they’re not listening to him. “Kyon toda? Kyon toda?” they harangue him (News18 India).
Then there’s the case of the heroic TV9 Bharatvarsh’s reporter-cum-ace mountaineer. In the dead of the night (11 pm), the channels says, he climbed a mountain—not just any old mountain but all the way up to Finger Top, 20,000-feet high, on the Pangong North Bank in Ladakh, that too all alone save for a stick to bring us news from the top of the world. Believe it or not—on social media no one believed it.
On to Times Now where Monday, on ‘India Upfront’, Rahul Shivshankar assailed activist Umar Khalid who had been arrested by the Delhi Police on Sunday for his alleged role in the Delhi riots, and the “Left Lutyens lobby” for what he and the channel called, ‘UmarLobbySecretTape’ that exposes ‘Radicals’ linked to ‘Umar’. He pilloried them for their double standards for saying one thing in public and another in ‘secret’. He added that the tape revealed “damning” admissions. Swaraj India later tweeted that this ‘secret’ conversation was actually a live Facebook session on 16 August.
Adding masala to news
Now back to that prison to see how Rhea Chakraborty fared in her cell. With the help of some dramatic drawings that show Rhea behind bars, India TV editor-in-chief and anchor Rajat Sharma said she spent a restless first night, she couldn’t sleep. She paced up and down, sat down only at 12 midnight on the chattai with a sheet and a cover supplied by the prison authorities. Till 2.30 am, she sat — the jail authorities said she looked visibly anxious and worried. She sipped water several times. At dinner, she ate only one roti and a little rice. Sharma revealed that his reporter told him, “NCB had robbed Rhea of her sleep”. How did he know?
The reason to cite these examples in detail is to show how real events are seasoned liberally with dollops of masala, and cooked up to become more entertaining—or appealing to certain agendas. News channel anchors have defended their coverage of SSR in particular, saying they are pursuing the “truth”. But when this pursuit is three months in the making, often 12-hours long a day, at a time when there are five million coronavirus cases in the country, an economy in deep distress and a tense confrontation at the LAC with China, questions will be raised.
All we can say to them is beware.
Views are personal.