The good news — coverage — was too good to last so it had to turn ugly.
The Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus scare presented news channels with the ideal opportunity to bare the fangs they had momentarily withdrawn last week. “In the battle against corona, Jamaat has dealt a bloody blow,” hollered ABP News. “Save the country from corona jihad,” demanded the Sudarshan headline with the anchor raising a clenched fist, “act strongly against corona jihad”. “In the name of religion, they have put our lives at risk,” warned Zee News. The Tuesday evening anchor then accused the Jamaat of taking India into the third stage of the coronavirus infection.
“Yes Markaz spiked the numbers”, “Ban Taliban Tablighi, chorus grows,” announced Times Now Wednesday evening.
Arnab Goswami on Republic TV said it was a “deliberate” attempt to undermine “my country”. He then let his guests yell at each other in a free fall.
Deepak Chaurasia (News Nation) was apoplectic with rage, his eyes screwed up as he demanded answers —
“jawab” – from Anzar Raza, the guest on his show, as though he had spread the coronavirus himself. Aam Aadmi Party’s Saurabh Bhardwaj told him to calm down and not treat the pandemic like just any other political issue.
Times Now called it “Markaz mayhem” and accused the Arvind Kejriwal government of not dealing with the “super spreaders” inside the Nizamuddin centre, because of “appeasement”.
And so it went on and on, from one channel to another.
The biggest story
Tuesday evening, audio tapes appeared on many channels such as CNN News18, Times Now, Zee News and Republic TV implicating Maulana Masood, the head of the centre. By Wednesday evening, videos emerged of a 23-March meeting of the Nizamuddin police with the Markaz officials in which they were warned to leave the premises (CNN News18). You hear one of the Markaz individuals say they can’t go home because of state-sealed borders….
As if this was not scary enough, news channels put out maps of India with red tags appearing across its length and breadth to indicate the destination of individuals who had gone home after their stay at the Nizamuddin Markaz. If the intention was to cause those of us sitting at home panic attacks, the news channels had more than succeeded.
With a display of its normal single-minded and simple-minded focus, TV news channels were determined to blame the Tablighi Jamaat for “Corona bomb” as ABP called it, in what India TV described at “Ek Maulana 9 shahar”. Which would have been fine had they also fixed some responsibility for what is now the “biggest manhunt” (Times Now) across India for those who fanned out from Nizamuddin — on other state authorities.
Some tough questions
Luckily, some channels tried for a more rational approach: Sandeep Choudhary of News 24 asked tough questions of the Modi government and the BJP. He looked at the “chronology” of events, pointing out that many temples, including Kashi Vishwanath, were open till 20 March and Parliament was working till 23 March. He questioned the politics of “dharma” and calling out only the Tablighi Jamaat.
ABP News pointed out, in a report by Indrajeet Rai, that the Nizamuddin Police station was just 50 metres away from the Tablighi Jamaat—it was “right under their nose” — what were they (the police) doing?
On India Today, Gaurav Sawant said there were questions to be asked of the Delhi government, the police, and Modi government too on how people from other countries were allowed into the country and to stay on at the Nizamuddin centre.
Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment
Meanwhile, the condition of the thousands of migrant workers has been all but forgotten.
Instead, news channels have tried to provide us with some comic relief from the “dharma drama” (News X). This has taken several forms: comedian Sunil Grover appeared on News Nation and India Today – he did a perfect imitation of Salman Khan on the latter; Armaan Malik strummed his guitar and sang on CNN News18 as anchor Anand Narasimhan tried to keep up with the beat; there was ‘Antakshari’ on Aaj Tak between the anchors and guests; Vikrant Gupta and Shweta Singh entertained themselves Monday evening in a singalong, asking viewers to send in their videos; News Nation hosted singer Anoop Jalota while India Ahead featured Bollywood stars’ home work; ABP brought us ‘Nanhe Bigg Boss’ every afternoon featuring the antics of young children at home.
“Your entertainment is also our responsibility,” proclaimed News 18 India, in lofty tones.
Now, if only they entertained without spooking us….
Views are personal.