What does the Indian economy have to do for TV news channels to sit up and take notice of it? Must it tank before the prima donna anchors of prime time debate its critical condition?
Seriously – on Monday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pegged India’s GDP forecast for FY2020 at 4.8 per cent – a downgrade of 1.3 per cent from its earlier estimate. It also blamed India – yes, you read that correctly – for lowering the world’s growth estimates.
Now, you would think news of such global proportions was serious and big enough to merit immediate coverage and emergency discussions?
Had the IMF held Pakistan responsible for anything remotely similar, India’s English news channels would have emblazoned it in ‘BREAKING NEWS’, suspended scheduled telecasts, and called in Maj Gen (Retd) G.D. Bakshi to give it a tongue-lashing.
Hindi news channels would have demanded Pakistan be removed from the world economy forthwith.
Relax, it’s ‘India First’
Luckily, though, this is India where Indian news channels always put ‘India First’ (India Today), where anchors like Sudhir Chaudhary (Zee News) remind us that the nation comes before anything else – and that, presumably, includes the world.
So, what did news channels do on Monday when the IMF made its announcement? They gave it the big ignore.
In its 8 pm Monday news bulletin, NDTV 24×7 carried excerpts from a press briefing by Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist, at Davos on the subject. Later that night (10 pm), the channel telecast an interview with her, and on Tuesday, the ‘Left Right & Centre’ discussion was ‘IMF sharply cuts India’s 2020 growth forecast’. Mirror Now also debated ‘IMF’s slowdown Alarm’ Tuesday night.
And that was pretty much that. The English news flashed the IMF forecast across the screen before the channels returned to matters of far greater importance, like Congress, Shaheen Bagh…
As for Hindi news channels, they wouldn’t recognise the economy even if it was under attack from Pakistani troops at the LoC. For them, astrology is important – that’s why they read out your fortune every morning – but the economy? Why they can’t even spell ‘arthvyavasthha’!
You don’t believe this? Consider Monday’s news channels after the IMF disclosure on India.
CNN News18 was busy lamenting the fate of Kashmiri Pandits, NewsX celebrated the new ruling triumvirate at BJP of Modi, Shah and Nadda after the election of the latter as the new BJP president, Mirror Now welcomed 24×7 nightlife in Mumbai, Times Now admonished the Congress for reportedly waiting for a Muslim ‘green flag’ before agreeing to join the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government, and India Today considered the utility of Brahmos-equipped Sukhoi 30-MKI aircraft.
At 9 pm, things changed: news broke that NRI businessman C.C. Thampi had been detained by the Enforcement Directorate. This caught the ever-vigilant eye of Times Now, which almost immediately debated the alleged Thampi-Vadra-Sonia connection (‘Is this Sonia link to Vadra loot?’).
Get this: the Vadra-Sonia news break gets a debate but not the Indian economy?
Republic TV went on and on about ‘#Secular Mask Off’ of the Congress in Maharashtra, India Today looked at the CAA, CNN News18 remained with the Kashmiri Pandits.
It’s the same story
Tuesday witnessed equal disdain for the economy, the IMF and Gita Gopinath. While India Today and CNN News18 did interview the economist, the day time news had other worries: at 5.30 pm, Times Now was still on the Vadra-Thampi connection, CNN News18 sensed a ‘Shaheen Bagh truce’ after some women from the protest site met Delhi’s Lt Governor and Republic TV was more concerned with a possible CAA resolution in the West Bengal assembly.
Tuesday night prime time? Business as usual — sorry, that ought to be politics as usual.
‘Republic investigates… Thampi mystery’ — now why can’t the channel examine the ‘mystery’ of the failing Indian economy with equal fervor?
It also stood with the people of Sarita Vihar in Delhi who complained about the inconvenience from the Shaheen Bagh protests – ‘#India with Sarita Vihar’.
NewsX went after Pakistan’s ‘radical crisis’, whatever that was; CNN News18 had a ‘CAA showdown’; Times Now defended actor Rajinikanth after his ‘naked’ statements regarding Periyar; and Hindi news channels reported or repeated Home Minister Amit Shah’s speech in Lucknow earlier in the day.
On Zee News, Sudhir Chaudhary celebrated what he considers his and Zee’s invention — the ‘tukde-tukde gang’ a.k.a. ‘AfzalPremiGang’ who are intent on dividing India into little pieces.
Fine, but what about those who are reducing the economy to bits and pieces – why not call them out too?
The Indian economy is a big yawn for news channels — first, they would have to deal with facts, which is alien to their nature; second, they would have to question the Narendra Modi government, which would then make them part of the tukde-tukde gang.
Third, if you are really so concerned about the Indian economy, go watch a business-economy channel.
Senate Trump trial like Lok Sabha TV
And finally, it doesn’t happen only in India: the US, with arguably the most independent media, saw only what the US Senate wanted it to see of President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial hearings: private broadcasters like CNN, ABC, even C-SPAN are not being permitted their own live coverage of the proceedings but have to take a video feed from the Senate’s microphones and cameras.
And since the Senate is controlled by the Republicans, what Americans see is a sanitised version. In the words of The New York Times, day one did not make for “compelling viewing”.
Indian viewers know the feeling: we are accustomed to Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV telecasts of Parliament proceedings that focus on the government benches or the Speaker avoiding the drama of Opposition protests or walkouts.