Friday, 12 August, 2022
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TV news focus camera on Dilip Kumar’s ambulance, BJP leaders’ cars — away from public issues

Before Modi cabinet reshuffle, channels were delighted by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speech. But Stan Swamy, Supreme Court's remark, or CBSE's new system were virtually missing.

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Television news appears to have a weakness for flying objects and motor vehicles. And this obsession reflects how it chooses to concentrate its energies on certain, often trivial matters and ignore critical signposts.

For example, it spent considerable time Wednesday morning on an ambulance – the one that drove up to Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai (News 18 India) after “the greatest actor that ever was” (Republic TV) died in the early hours.

When the ambulance left the hospital with actor Dilip Kumar’s body, TV crews raced after it, trained their cameras on its interior and showed us green-tinted visuals of his wife Saira Banu placing her hand on him (Zee News, Times Now, ABP News, Aaj Tak, India TV, CNN News18). This was their signature visual while they waited outside the actors’ Bandra home for the ‘celebs’ (Times Now) who would come to pay their last respects.

Isn’t this TV news at its most distasteful? Even as it showered Dilip Kumar with praise—the ‘Shahenshah’, ‘the thespian’, ‘the legend’ of Indian cinema, it stripped him and Banu of dignity by recording events, inside the ambulance, that neither we nor they ought to have been privy to.


Also read: Dilip Kumar was the First Khan of Bollywood, the Prince Salim of our hearts: Shobhaa De


Chasing cars

Back in the national capital, we were treated to a cavalcade of cars and SUVs leaving different destinations in Delhi for the Prime Minister’s 7, Lok Nayak Marg residence, with BJP leaders who were to be named ministers in Narendra Modi’s new ‘Dream Team’ (Aaj TaK).

Tuesday, we saw Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh’s helicopter wait outside his residence and then lift off for Delhi (India TV) where he met Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi to sort out his Navjot Singh Sidhu problem. At around the same time, Aaj Tak featured a map of India, tracking the flight routes of BJP leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia, Narayan Rane and Sarbananda Sonowal to Delhi. Huh?

The cabinet ‘rejig’, as many news channels called it, to reflect ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (CNN News18) in ‘Modi Mantri Mandal 2.0’ (Times Now), was a decisive move of critical importance, and therefore we may forgive the carpet coverage it has received since Monday evening.

Before the reshuffle, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s ‘sabka DNA ek’ speech (India TV) over the weekend delighted news channels, who sang its praise Monday — ‘massive sabka saath ointment,’ pronounced Times Now. ‘Swagat,’ said ABP News as most channels discussed its message of peace towards all, especially, Muslims.

While it deserved to be highlighted, discussed and debated, there were other developments that news channels virtually ignored for something like Chirag Paswan’s Aashirwad yatra through Bihar, even as his estranged uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras was being anointed a Modi minister.


Also read: TV news is droning about drones and all aflutter over Twitter


Issues ignored

‘Historic High,’ announced Mirror Now, referring to the latest rise in fuel prices crossing the Rs 100 per litre mark for petrol — “36th hike in 2 months”. Ouch. News X and Times Now also reported the surge in costs. But this is not a topic that got debated at prime time — why? Isn’t it the single most important issue facing the Indian consumer?

CBSE announced its new two-tier formula for Class XII and Class X exams – this too made news on TV but did leading channels like Republic TV, Times Now, India TV, ABP News, etc. discuss it in the evening? Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary told us that 30 lakh families were affected by the new system – yet no one thought that was important enough for the 8 pm – 9 pm high voltage debates.

There’s also the small matter of a missing monsoon in India’s north west, including Delhi and NCR. Although most news channels have their headquarters here, and swelter in the heat, they don’t believe it’s ‘hot’ enough for prime time — or any talk show during the day.

And did you see any discussion or in-depth news reports about the Supreme Court’s ‘shocking’ observation that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was still being used despite being struck down in 2015?

Or the SC’s dismissal of a plea to investigate the alleged ‘toolkit’ by the Congress ‘maligning’ PM Modi? The only ‘toolkit’ making frequent headlines is the one on Republic TV – the Ghaziabad toolkit case of the video of a Muslim man whose beard was reportedly cut by force.

All of these story featured on page one of newspapers such as The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express — but news channels didn’t find them worthy enough of their interest.

Lastly, the case of tribal rights activist, Father Stan Swamy. His death in Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital Monday received extensive coverage in print media but on TV, it was little more than an obituary notice — ‘Father Stan Swamy dies’ (CNN News 18). Barring NDVT 24×7, NDTV India and India Today, which questioned the denial of bail and his arrest under the stringent UAPA, Stan Swamy was ignored.

When a channel like Zee News did take it up for debate, the anchor wondered why tears were being shed over people like him — `desh ka dushman’. After all, Swamy was arraigned on ‘terror charges’, identified by those who kept him behind bars as a ‘Naxal’… This, by the way, when Swamy wasn’t questioned once by the NIA or that his case never even reached the courts.

After such trial by media, it is no surprise that The Washington Post report on ‘false’ incriminating documents were planted in the laptops of Surendra Gadling and Rona Wilson, both accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, found few takers on news channels.

These are issues of civil liberties and freedom of speech. You would suppose news channels had a stake in such matters. Doesn’t it worry you that they would rather spend hours watching cars drive by and helicopters take off — or grab a video shot of Dilip Kumar’s last rites, if they could?

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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