Thursday, 20 January, 2022
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Times Now sympathy went to BJP minister’s son. Zee News turned to ‘Khalistan plan’

India's TV news channels picked a clear side between farmers and BJP on Lakhimpur Kheri incident. Aryan Khan was just a happy distraction.

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Television news doesn’t follow the news, it chases the politics. This suits the political parties and them, admirably—they get the confrontation they want between the ruling party and the Opposition, and the politicians seize the moment, make it their own when it rightly belongs elsewhere.

The moment, in this case, belonged to the nine lives lost in Lakhimpur, Uttar Pradesh, when a BJP convoy ran into farm protesters; it belonged to their bereaved families; and it ought to have belonged to discovering what happened and who was responsible for the ‘terrifying’ (India Today) incidents in which the dead were allegedly either ‘mowed down’ or ‘lynched’, last Sunday.

Instead, it was politics, slants and videotape — to rewrite the name of a celebrated film.

News channels diverted our attention: we watched the ludicrous spectacle, Wednesday, of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arguing with the UP Police at Lucknow airport over ‘cars’ and ‘permission pe pange’ (CNNNews18), Rahul Gandhi on the flight to Lucknow, Rahul Gandhi driving to Delhi airport, Rahul Gandhi at a press conference… And Priyanka Gandhi sweeping the room where she was detained Monday – “Politicians, listen in: you’re not allowed into Lakhimpur,” announced India TV. By the way, how come the BJP allowed Rahul and Priyanka so much goodwill TV time – he firewalled by the police, she with a broom in her hand?

We watched ‘Politics over Lakhimpur’ (Mirror Now), brought to you by news channels and political parties. ‘Political tourism,’ said Zee News of the Opposition’s attempt to visit Lakhimpur from Monday; ‘Political conspiracy,’ alleged India Today; ‘Rahul’s vulture politics’ (Times Now); ‘Congress slams BJP’ (CNNNews18); ‘Akhilesh Arrested’ (Bharat Samachar).

We watched Trinamool Congress leaders visit Lakhimpur (CNN-News18), Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha on his way there (Times Now) and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar criticise the UP government – ‘all India politics on,’ observed Times Now Navbharat.

We watched channels toil over juicy, gimmicky headlines — ‘Deaths, Dangal & Drama’ (CNN News 18 India); ‘Clashes, claims and counter claims’ (Mirror Now); ‘More tragedy tourism – pick & choose and use’ (Zee Hindustan).

Also read: One more death in Lakhimpur Kheri shouldn’t go unnoticed — Indian media credibility

Channels for MoS Mishra, son

And we watched them ask more questions of the Opposition than the government. While reporters at ground zero were objective and spoke to farmers/protesters and their families —NDTV India, India Today, ABP News, India TV — as well as to Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra and his son Ashish Mishra who has been named in one FIR, those in the Delhi studios were inclined to emphasise one side of the story.

‘Who is stoking Lakhimpur violence?’ asked Republic TV. ‘SP workers stoke fires,’ it answered its own question after a police vehicle was set on fire outside Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav’s residence where he sat on a dharna after being denied permission to visit Lakhimpur. ‘Who attacked and lynched 4 BJP workers?’ asked Times Now, ‘Is justice not for all?’ wondered CNN-News18.

The video that ran alongside these queries was of certain unidentified men beating a man or men with rods and was shown repeatedly, Monday to Wednesday with questions like ‘What kind of farmer is this?’ (Zee News). Anchors on Zee News and Times Now asked their guests Monday evening, why they had sympathy only for the farmers/protesters and not the four BJP workers who had been allegedly killed.

We could ask them the reverse question: where was their sympathy for the dead protesters?

All the news channels interviewed MoS Ajay Mishra and his son Ashish. Channels like India Today did ask, ‘Named in FIR why no arrest?’ but mostly the two were given time and space to recount their version of events—is this courtesy extended to others who have FIRs against them?

And the Times Now reporter sounded quite sympathetic when he said to Ashish Mishra that while there had been much talk of the (dead) protesters (where?), there was little talk about the (dead) BJP workers – an odd comment when all the news channels did was talk about the BJP workers being `lynched’.

Also read: Modi can’t behave as if ‘sab changa si’ and not speak up on Lakhimpur Kheri

Channels’ own versions

All versions all videos,’ declared Times Now Wednesday but when it asked questions that ‘hold the key’ to the violence in Lakhimpur, Monday, this was not quite the case – ‘Who attacked BJP convoy’, was the minister’s son responsible for the death of the four protesters, what proof was there of minister’s son links to the violence; four people were ‘lynched’, ‘beaten to death’ by protesters – who were the perpetrators; who killed Shyam Sundar, a BJP worker.

On Republic TV, anchor Arnab Goswami accused the Opposition of ‘flashpoint politics’ and recited his version of the events, Sunday: protesters were angry at the BJP, they surrounded the vehicle, the driver ‘ran amok’ and ‘most unfortunately’ ended up running over ‘some people’ who died, and then the protesters turned into a ‘lynch mob’, pulled people out of the car and ‘lynched and killed four people – ‘beat them to pulp,’ he added for good effect.

On CNN-News18, the anchor at 8 pm Monday wanted to know if there was video proof of Ashish Mishra being in the car; that if it was a peaceful protest, why would anyone want to run over people and why would BJP leaders, on their home turf, want to create trouble?

News X hosted a guest, one Dr S.K. Dutta, who warned of ‘Khalistani influences’ without providing any proof; Zee News also spoke of a ‘Khalistan plan’.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was Ravish Kumar on NDTV India who concentrated on the death of the protesters/farmers and why their families were unwilling to cremate their bodies.

Come Tuesday, news channels broadcast several other videos that showed a jeep/Scorpio ramming into the crowd of protesters and one protester caught under the jeep’s wheel while the passengers fled — the people “had no inkling… were completely oblivious…’ of the car coming up behind them,” said a sympathetic India Today reporter.

Each time they aired these videos, channels were careful to state that they could not authenticate the veracity of the videos — which is just as it should be, except they never issued a similar warning Monday when they showed the ‘lynching’ video. Hmmm.

Each day, anchors talked politics – ‘siyasat’ —when they ought to have left it to their reporters to find out the all elusive `truth of the matter.

Meanwhile, India TV ran a feature, Monday afternoon, on all the steps Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken to help farmers – ‘Modi ne kisan ke liye kya kya kiya’.

Really? Was that appropriate after Lakhimpur?

Also read: Lakhimpur Kheri reporter was alive but police took him to morgue, not hospital, brother agonises

His name is Khan

Aryan Khan may consider himself lucky. Had it not been for the ‘blood drenched’ (India Today) confrontation in Lakhimpur, he would have been this week’s face of television after being ‘detained’ in the ‘VVIP drug bust’ (Times Now) on an alleged ‘rave’ party aboard a cruise ship, nicknamed ‘drug mahal’ by Republic TV.

As it was, we caught fleeting glimpses of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son in video snatches of him reaching the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) office in Mumbai, coming out, going into the district court, coming out and climbing into the car. Rivetting stuff.

We also waited, patiently, outside SRK’s home with the Republic TV reporter — if only the superstar had been Superman and flown back from the shooting of his film Pathan to emerge in an SUV that news channels could have chased, just as they had actor Deepika Padukone’s vehicle, last summer – remember?

Instead, we had to make do with interviews of NCB chief S.N Pradhan, caches of cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, charas apparently hidden in collar shirts (India TV), a forensic investigation of Aryan’s mobile and WhatsApp chats (Republic TV), the ‘code-word’ for drugs used by Aryan & Co (Zee News), and allegations by ‘sources’ that Aryan was ‘consuming’ drugs for the last five years (News X). It was ‘Dum maro dum’, no less, quipped India TV.

The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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