When it came to #MeToo, Indian TV wanted to stand up, be counted and get noticed too.
#MeToo and you too have so consumed Indian attention and prurient curiosity that nothing else seems to matter.
But there has been a lot of big news in the last week. It’s not every day that Russian President Vladimir Putin drops by to ink in a Rs 40,000 crore missile deal and we watch him chuck little children under the chin. It’s not every day that we see a video of young girls cowering on their beds after allegations of being beaten up by a mob in Supaul, Bihar. On Monday, Hindi and English news channels headlined the news before the likes of Nana Patekar distracted them.
It’s certainly not every day that migrants from north India have to flee their homes in Gujarat after the alleged rape of a 14-month-old girl by a migrant worker. We heard the heartrending accounts of distressed families, at railway stations where news channels like India TV, News Nation had positioned sympathetic reporters.
Unfortunately, as happens so often, a tragic tale of fear, human suffering and displacement quickly descended into ‘#GujaratHatePolitics’ (Republic TV) with the channel blaming Congress’ Alpesh Thakor for “fuelling hatred” against non-Gujaratis.
This allegation was supported by a video clip of a 17 September Thakor speech where he spoke about increasing unemployment amongst Gujaratis due to migrant workers and asked his audience to clap their hands if they agreed with the demand for more jobs. No call to arms.
However, since then, the all too familiar BJP v/s Congress name-and-shame game has played out with ‘my-press-conference-versus-your-press-conference’.
It’s not every day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the world atmosphere is likely to grow warmer by 2.7-degrees Fahrenheit if the current scale of greenhouse emissions continues. WION and most impressively the Hindi news channel, News India, addressed the potential threat of this Monday.
It’s also not every day but perhaps every other day that we see Congress president Rahul Gandhi deliver his views on the Narendra Modi government (HT Summit, CNN News 18). Not his best effort: Stiff and sober at a function that demands liveliness and wit.
It’s not every day but certainly each time there are polls around the corner that pre-poll opinion polls surface: ABP, Times Now differed– as polls are wont to do. ABP gave the Congress the edge in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and a big victory in Rajasthan while Times Now agreed with the latter but favoured the BJP in the first two.
And so to #MeToo.
Every day, since Tanushree Datta first called out Nana Patekar for sexual harassment, there have been new accusations of sexual harassment, misconduct and even rape against men in the entertainment and media industry. This is very close to home and too close for comfort, but the English TV news channels, in particular, have not shied away from naming journalists with captioned photographs identifying all of them—CNN News 18, for one.
They have been extremely supportive of the women who have come forward—writer-producer Vinta Nanda renewed her accusations of sexual assault by actor Alok Nath, and appeared across news channels for tell-all interviews. “You have been so brave Ma’am,” the Mirror Now anchor said, to relive the “horror”.
Headlines like, “Are we guilty of condoning sexism?”, “No means no” (News X), “#MeToo… explodes in India” (Mirror Now), and “How’s shaming ‘perverts’ galat?” (Times Now), indicate just how strongly news TV felt on the issue. Was this because there are many senior women editors in these organisations? Or that the news was just too juicy and sensational to resist?
The truth is probably more prosaic: For television news channels, this was their #MeToo moment in an entirely different way. As social media and online news portals led with news of fresh accusations by women, TV news, like the print media, was always struggling to catch up. It needed to stand up, be counted – and get noticed too. So it has pledged itself to the cause.
That support has also taken the form of calling out Bollywood’s big-wigs. CNN News 18 asked why the superstars have been conspicuous by their silence on the Patekar and Alok Nath cases while people like Mahesh Bhatt came out to “celebrate women speaking out”.
A curious case of timing hit Times Now interview with author Chetan Bhagat, telecast Saturday. Ostensibly, this was about the release of his latest novel, but Bhagat was asked about sexual harassment. He spoke respectfully of the need to listen to Dutta, and of “inappropriate” behaviour in Bollywood; he applauded women for “drawing lines” while criticising men. “As if men have no choice,” he said.
Even as the interview played out, he was named for harassment.
The author is a former journalist and is the vice dean, Jindal School of Journalism and Communication.