Bihar Encephalitis Horror’ saw ‘Modi sarkar’ finally intervene on India Today’s breaking news, Wednesday afternoon, but not before ‘#BiharChildDeaths’ (Times Now) had crossed well over a hundred—although there is some disagreement on the number of deaths: India Today claimed 113 deaths, CNN News18 India said 142 deaths by Wednesday afternoon – all due to the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) currently raging in Muzaffarpur.
At almost exactly the same time, Mirror Now flashed video footage of a hospital being vandalised. No, it wasn’t the SKMCH Hospital in Muzaffarpur where most of the AES deaths have occurred, but Maharishi Valmiki Hospital in Delhi. The hospital, allegedly, did not have the correct anesthesia to administer to a four-year-old rape victim, which enraged her relatives to wreak havoc.
Ironic because the entire weekend and most of Monday, was spent in demanding better ‘security at workplace’ for doctors (NDTV 24×7) as the ‘Doctors v/s Mamata’ (Republic) ‘medical mayhem’ (CNN News18) played out on TV.
This followed the attack on a doctor after a patient died in a Kolkata government hospital and junior doctors went on strike. A nationwide strike of solidarity, Monday, saw news channels support the doctors’ demands with extensive coverage of ‘Doctors on the warpath’ (India Today) and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s subsequent capitulation later that evening.
For a refreshing change, this week, politicians in power were held accountable as ‘#BiharSOS’ received “relentless coverage” (if there is such a thing) across news channels – and not only on Republic TV, which was ‘relentless’ in its pursuit of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his reported negligence.
Well, it hasn’t caught up with him yet but on Wednesday it finally managed to have a word with his deputy, Sushil Modi. He had the temerity to tell the media to ‘get out’, claimed Republic. Nothing healthy about this relationship, is there?
Sushil Modi has also been relentlessly pursued by Republic TV’s favourite competition, Times Now – anchor Rahul Shivshankar has been demanding his public appearance and his resignation since Monday—it got the first but when last did a politician resign for anything?
Another politician to face TV ignominy was Mangal Pandey, state health minister. At a meeting on AES, Sunday, he was more concerned with “kitne wicket gaye?” in the India- Pakistan World Cup match in England than ‘kitne’ children were being treated for the virus.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was also cornered by TV reporters outside Parliament – he made all the right noises but without much conviction.
However, TV news reporters went beyond the politicians and swarmed all over the villages near Muzaffarpur, where children had fallen sick with AES, to speak to their families. They also spoke to doctors where ever they could find them to discuss the litchi connection to encephalitis, and finally ended up at the SKMCH Hospital.
And that is when we witnessed the extraordinary sight of every reporter worth the microphone s/he carried like a visiting card, wandering through the hospital, unchallenged, as if on a stroll through a park.
Mirror Now’s intrepid reporter found ‘filthy conditions’, CNN News18, discovered the hospital did not have the ‘basic facilities’, Republic TV’s wide-awake correspondent marched in and out of the ICU at 2.15 am and also visited the toilets, dirty and without water. India TV stopped by the hospital wards and spoke to mothers of the sick children as did Times Now, India Today, CNN News18 and NDTV 24×7.
TV9 Bharatvarsh was unrelenting when its reporter discovered a BJP party member comfortably seated inside a doctors’ room wearing his shoes – something that really annoyed the reporter. What was he doing there, how did he get in there, who was he…The unnerved man finally hastened out, removed his footwear and disappeared.
Our country would be in much better shape than it is if all ‘Journalists’ had a spine like this guy! 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/4PW1pNBFMe
— Saral Patel (@SaralPatel) June 17, 2019
In report after report from the wards, we listened to the stories of worried mothers, heard the cries of young children in distress. It was tragic.
All of this was the real thing—the media on the job, at ground zero, speaking ‘Bihar truth’ as Republic called it, to those in power. If there was a disconcerting element it was in the discomfort that arose from an invasion of privacy: children, some naked, some barely clothed, entangled in tubes – their only links to life – lay there fully exposed to the camera as did their distraught families.
Also, should reporters be given complete access to hospital wards? Watch Anjana Om Kashyap (Aaj Tak) on the warpath, rudely haranguing doctors and nurses along the way. Just a day before reporters like her where shielding doctors on strike against Mamata Banerjee, now they’re attacking them.
This shameless @anjanaomkashyap lady blaming to all the doctors for poor conditions of hospital.
You all can see how all Doctors doing best to help kids but for fake sympathy and propaganda to save government she crossed all limit of Shamelessness. pic.twitter.com/wUuwXgm1dS
— Azaad (@dostam_comrade) June 18, 2019
Is this how we view the poor? Would the same TV reporters have invaded high-end private hospitals and exposed children who lived more charmed lives? We wonder.
One such ultra-lavish 7-star hospital is where Dr Rohit Sippy is a famous heart surgeon in a new TV serial Kahan Hum Kahan Tum (Star Plus, Premiere). By the end of the second episode, he had successfully performed surgery on a young girl, Preeti, who suffered from a hole in her heart.
Sippy goes on to encounter his prospective heartthrob Sonakshi, the acclaimed star of a hit TV soap opera where she plays Parvati.
She has fainted on the sets, and the production team races out onto the street and hails down the doctor, like a taxi.
Kahan Hum Kahan Tum reminds you of Madhuri Dixit and her husband Dr Nene; it also self-referential as it looks at the world of TV serials from the inside –Parvati is a reminder of the protagonist in the very popular Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. She also often speaks to the viewer in her confidential asides: ‘TV ke duniya mein aisa hi hota hai’ she says early on.
What will happen to the lovesick hero and heroine? Make an appointment with Dr Sippy to find out.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.