Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
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TV news channels say PM Modi can stop Ukraine ‘mahayudh’. If only Putin-Biden listen

TV9 Bharatvarsh, WION, Republic TV and India Today have all sent reporters to Ukraine to show ‘what Western media blacks out’.

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Will Putin-Biden abide by Modi’s faisla?’

Guessing no one—not Russian President Vladimir Putin nor American President Joe Biden, not Ukraine nor NATO—have so far considered the possibility of the Indian Prime Minister intervening in the ‘War Breaking’ (TV9 Bharatvarsh) between Ukraine and Russia. No one, that is, except Zee News — perhaps it knows something the rest of us don’t – which put out this poster to promote its 8.20 pm programme, Tuesday.

Now don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. When the TV9 Bharatvarsh reporter asked a Czech diplomat ‘What role can India play?’, he replied, “India has very good relations with everyone, including Russia, and it can use its potential to talk to Russian colleagues.”

India’s diplomatic initiative was just one of the angles explored by Indian news channels in their coverage of a possible ‘mahayudh’ (NewsNation). Meanwhile, the possibility of a ‘world war’ led to a string of provocative headlines on several Hindi news channels: ‘Mahayudh ka khatra’ said NDTV India Tuesday; ‘Chances of world war increase,’ warned Zee News; ‘Russia is ready’, declared Aaj Tak, ‘now world war?’

Do news channels really anticipate not just a war but a world war? Well, you can’t tell with them—the very same channels called the different phases of polling in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections ‘Round, 1,2,3 4 of Mahayudh’.

It’s worth noting that international news channels like BBC World and Al Jazeera were not war-mongering in their rather more sober headlines, taglines. ‘Russia-Ukraine tensions,’ said the two in unison, while CNN International was perched precariously on the ‘Edge of war’.

But let’s not belittle the efforts of the Indian news channels. Most are taking the developing situation in the region with utmost seriousness. Some have even sent out reporters to Ukraine — TV9 Bharatvarsh and WION were the first ones to board flights to Kyiv last week, with Republic TV and Aaj Tak/India Today taking off in the last few days. And they were not shy of boasting about it: ‘Grounded in journalism in ground reporting’ boasted India Today while TV9 went one step better with ‘Ground zero ka hero war zone se’.

There have been chats with Indian students still stranded there as well as those who made it back (CNN News18) — in particular a student named Madhu who appeared on several channels. There has been daily discussion with the usual round of strategic experts on NewsX, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, NDTV, CNN News18, to name a few. Most of them tried to decipher ‘Putin’s power punch’ (NewsNation), or what happens when ‘Putin pulls the plug’ (NewsX) and the implications of two separatist states declaring independence from Ukraine—is this a ‘tukde-tukde’ strike, wondered News18 India.

TV9 Bharatvarsh referred to a gigantic map to show ‘tukde-tukde’ that had ‘separated’ from Ukraine and launched into an in-depth discussion on the ‘full and final’ ‘salami slicing’ of the region.

Also read: India should stand with the West against Russia

Reporters run to Ukraine

Then there have been the visuals and graphics that try to represent the ground reality. So we see bomber aircraft lift off the screen, bombs fall, missiles launched, helicopters land, troops fall to the ground, weapons in hand – smoke billowing in the air in big balloons and everything reduced to rubble.

(Coincidentally, as you watched this representational footage of bombs exploding, you saw headlines across channels about the ‘cycle bombs’ being used by the BJP in its ‘terror’ tactics to ruin the prospects of the Samajwadi Party in the UP polls. Hmm.)

The centrepiece of the coverage has been the TV news reports from Ukraine, or the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk. So far these have been rather meek and mild compared to the dramatic representational graphics or footage. We watched TV9’s reporter reach Luhansk. He was in a vehicle tootling down a highway. Couldn’t see much though except for a smattering of houses along the way. The city looked deserted, the apartment blocks were just that, blocks, and there were barely one or two people on the street outside Luhansk Medical Hospital.

Later, we saw a burnt vehicle that the Donetsk officials claim is the result of Ukrainian attacks.

Onto Republic TV, which claims to have the most comprehensive coverage of the latest developments with ’10 journalists’ on hand to report. Remember, Republic TV nurses ambitions of being a truly international channel. Monday, we accompanied a reporter on a highway that looked like any old highway. Then with a combative headline, ‘What Western media blacks out’, it cut to an interview with Russian journalist Tatyana Kukhareva of the State-owned Sputnik News who claimed there was plenty of `shelling’ from Ukraine.

Around the same time, WION was showing us the ruins of homes in Avdivka, Ukraine, the result of bombing from the other side.

By Tuesday afternoon, Republic’s very own Shawan Sen landed in Kyiv and before he had even collected his luggage, he was outside the airport reporting on the situation: ‘It’s a little calm… the lull before the storm.’ He could hear an ‘eerie silence’. He promised us ‘360 degrees’ understanding of the events. Can’t wait.

India Today/Aaj Tak’s Gaurav Sawant was also in the area – wonder if they will all bang into each other or each one go their separate way. Not seen any of his reports so far but expect more interviews with the local population and more footage of battle-scarred buildings.

Also read: Why Donetsk & Luhansk, Ukraine’s rebel territories recognised by Russia, matter

The ‘soil’ in hijab controversy

The other big news story of the week was the continuing hijab row with the new twist in the tale being the murder of a Bajrang Dal worker Harsha in Shivamogga, Karnataka. While the police are noncommittal, BJP spokespersons such as Sanju Verma shrieked that this was an ‘act of terror’ (CNN News18).

The strangest comment on the hijab controversy, thus far, comes from Jaggi Vasudev. 

Asked by anchor Navika Kumar (Times Now) what he thought about the hijab stand-off, he replied that everything you wear comes from the soil. The soil is a unifying force, it can be used as a unifying force in this controversy, he said.

The bemused expression on Kumar’s face was worth at least a fistful of, er, soil.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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