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Taliban, Taliban, Taliban. Indian news channels serve ‘exclusive’ interviews, source-less videos

CNN News 18, India Today, Republic Bharat, Times Now – all dangle videos seemingly sourced from social media before Indian viewers, and at least once getting fact-checked.

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You have never seen anything like this before. Well, not in recent memory.

Indian TV news channels’ ‘exclusive’ coverage of Afghanistan has virtually wiped out all domestic news – but for the Tokyo Paralympics – until the reopening of schools in different states, Wednesday, reclaimed air time.

And very wet air time it was too, in Delhi, where reporters from channels like ABP News were drenched in morning downpours as they joined students going back to school, again.

Back to Kabul, where the Afghanistan story has been covered so extensively and in such depth by news TV that by now Indian viewers know more about that country than they do of their own.

Reporting on Afghanistan or the `Kabul Caliphate’ (Times Now), the departure of US forces and the Taliban’s subsequent airport tourism that saw the `terrorists’ (Republic Bharat) allow reporters to stroll across the tarmac, discover helicopters `destroyed and disabled’ by the Americans before they left (BBC World) or interview the dreaded Badri 303 battalion troops (Al Jazeera), has not been easy for Indian news channels without their own correspondents on the ground.

That may explain why they made a mistake about the footage of a man dangling from a US Blackhawk helicopter commandeered by the Taliban, after what Republic TV described aa ‘cold blooded murder’ by the Taliban—an image that dominated TV on Tuesday and generated much moral disgust by anchors like Sudhir Choudhury, Zee News and India Today’s Gaurav Sawant who declaimed that the Taliban were ‘learnt to have unleashed a brutality you never heard of…’

report in Alt News showed that the man was neither dead nor being ‘paraded’ in the air– he was alive and trying to unfurl the Taliban flag. Reuters, too, carried a report questioning the ‘dangling’ claim.

Also read: ThePrint in Afghanistan and the value of putting boots on the ground each time

Source-less videos, ‘exclusive’ interviews

The absence of their own reporters may also explain why TV news had to rely on local reporters like Anas Mallick (Zee New, WION) or the foreign media (Reuters, AFP, LA Times, CNN International) to conduct an unusually high number of `exclusive’ interviews – or better still, `world exclusive’ interviews.

For instance, CNN News 18 had an `exclusive’, nay `mega’, nay ‘world exclusive’ chit chat with Anas Haqqani, Haqqani Network, and never mind that India Today had a TRT interview with him too – once an exclusive, always an exclusive.

CNN News 18 boasted of other `exclusive’ Q&As – a `first ever’ with Amrullah Saleh, Afghan Vice President, and with Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, head of Taliban’s political office in Doha, to name just two. Stanizkai spoke to India Today too – clearly, the Taliban, or the ‘the devil’ as NewsX called it, has adopted a conciliatory approach towards the media, for now.

India Today also featured an `exclusive’ with Zabibullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesperson. Joining the `exclusive’ club was CNN International with the uplifting but harrowing ordeal of a US interpreter, Rashid, before he managed to board a flight to the US; Republic Bharat with a video of driving to Kabul airport the day after the US troops had left; News 24’s `World Exclusive’ report that no planes could fly across Kabul until further notice; and `First on Times Now’ of `murder and mayhem and massacre’ by the Taliban…

The video images of Afghanistan on news channels don’t mention a source. That means you don’t know when it was recorded, who recorded it – or if it’s authentic. So, we see the Taliban trying to enter Panjshir while eight of them were killed (Aaj Tak); we see hooded men, reportedly the Taliban, beating a shrouded figure (News Nation); we see the Taliban allegedly collecting guns from local people, forcibly (Republic TV), and what News Nation described as the `Making of Evil’ – the training of young boys from the age of six to be Taliban ‘terrorists’.

‘Reject Islamist State,’ demanded Times Now, echoing the general sentiment expressed across news channels that Afghanistan under Taliban was a terror state of barbaric proportions. As this columnist pointed out a fortnight ago, wonder how these virulent attacks, however justified, sit with the Government of India — as channels noted, the Indian envoy in Doha met the top Taliban leadership, Monday. Hmmmn.

Also read: Here’s how Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN reported on Afghanistan. And how Times Now, Zee, Republic did

‘Worry’ for Afghan women

The other highlight of the coverage on Indian news channels has been its concern for the women in Afghanistan. For the past three weeks, channels have worry writ all over their brow – WION’s #SaveAfghanWomen campaign describes their anxiety best – `What will be the future of women in Afghanistan?’, `Taliban takeover threatens women’s rights. 14 million in danger…’

Zee Hindustan spoke of rape and dishonour for them; India Today said Afghan women `fear terror’; Zee News and News 24 called Afghanistan ‘narkistan’ – Hell – for women; TV 9 BharatVarsh added that women with tattoos would be beaten up; ABP News showed us a woman, Khatera Hasabi, who had apparently been blinded by the Taliban….

If there were interviews with Afghan MPs like Neelam Irshad Sheikh (Times Now) and Anarkali Kaur (NDTV 24×7) in the first week, those have been succeeded by conversations with Afghan women who had fled to India, sometimes in the TV studios — and it wasn’t always easy to watch.

Meena spoke of her mother still in Panjshir and began to cry whereupon the news anchor asked her to ‘control yourself’ and added, `We understand your pain’ — really? Is it possible to appreciate what it must feel like to leave your family, your mother behind to an unknown, possibly violent future? (News 24).

ABP News hosted Muskaan, who tried to describe how she felt leaving her family in Kabul and worrying for them — `they have experience of the Taliban,’ she murmured, before breaking down. The anchor put a comforting hand on her shoulder, asked her to drink water and advised her rather pointlessly, ‘Relax kijiye’.

The only relaxing, positive news out there has been Indians winning at the Tokyo Paralympics, and to their credit, news channels celebrated each victory with as much enthusiasm as they had the medals won at the Olympics a few weeks ago.

The victorious athletes were interviewed by many channels and if anyone could teach us lessons in humility, it’s these winners: they were abashed, almost blushing at the compliments and thanked the people of India.

Who does that?

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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