Indian news channels elation over India completing 75 years of Independence was short-lived. On Monday, CNN-News18 had cheerily announced that the ‘Nation beams with pride’, momentarily ignoring its earlier news headline that said, ‘Dalit boy beaten to death’ in Rajasthan. On Tuesday, all smiles had stopped. The channel, grimly, announced the killing of a Kashmiri Pandit in Jammu and Kashmir, and demanded ‘Justice for Sushil Kumar’.
Even as they launched into ‘Pakistan’s proxies’ (News X) for the alleged attack in Shopian, came a news flash of more tragedy from the Valley: A military bus transporting Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) soldiers had fallen into a gorge, leaving seven servicemen dead and 32 injured. Was this also the indirect handiwork of Pakistan? News X, at least, had its suspicions: `DodgyBrakesFail’, it said, and went on to suggest that they could have been tampered with.
These terrible incidents, highlighted by news channels, reminded viewers, if any reminder was necessary, that India is still divided by communal and caste strife, the former often aided and abetted in Jammu & Kashmir by a hostile neighbour – ‘Pakistan ka paap’, or as TV9 Bharatvarsh called it.
The coverage of each of these incidents was also a study in contrasts. The attack on the Kashmiri Pandit brothers Sushil and Pintu got the most melodramatic coverage, with communal overtones, and dominated TV on Tuesday. The death of the Dalit boy took on political hues while the ITBP bus ‘accident’ became a sideshow.
What began on a sombre note – ‘Two Kashmiri Pandit brothers shot’ (NDTV 24×7) – became ‘Kashmiri Pandits targeted again’ (ABP News) before ‘Anger’ exploded over ‘Hindu killing’ (Republic TV) and went on to be described in rather colorful language: ‘most coward’ act of terrorists, declared a visibly outraged Republic TV. Everything tends to ‘explode’ on the channel – on Wednesday, it was ‘Bihar Min explodes’.
Zee Hindustan went one step further: In Kashmir, ‘Hindus are in danger’, it warned. Primetime debates on channels such as Times Now, CNN -News18 bayed for action against the ‘bigots’ (CNN News 18).
The absence of sensitivity in the reporting was shocking. No sooner had the shooting of Sunil Kumar occurred than photographs of his brother Pintu Kumar, lying in a hospital bed clearly in pain and distress, were displayed across news channels. And they continued to be shown through Tuesday into Wednesday. Why were we gaping at the despair in Pintu Kumar’s eyes? Couldn’t channels have waited and shot photographs or even interviewed him, once he was in a better state of mind and body?
The strike against the Kashmiri Pandit’s killing was the top story in newspapers too, on page 1, but publications like The Times of India and The Indian Express did not publish photographs of the injured man along with their leads. Why can’t television news learn some good practices? And what on earth is its self-regulatory mechanism doing if not wagging a finger at such coverage?
Political angle to Dalit death
The killing of the Dalit boy after being reportedly beaten by his teacher for daring to touch a matka of drinking water in Jalore district, Rajasthan was first denounced, very correctly, by news channels for its awfulness and then treated as a political failure of the Congress’ Ashok Gehlot government. Reports on Tuesday turned to Congress leader and Rajasthan strongman Sachin Pilot who decided to visit the family of the deceased boy and the resignation of a Congress MLA over the alleged crime. It became a Gehlot v/s Pilot issue, once again.
Of course, reporters rushed to the village where the incident had taken place. Times Now had the light bulb idea of visiting the boy’s school and speaking to other students. What we witnessed was rows of children seated on the ground — boys in one, girls in another. Its TV reporter asked them where they got water from to drink. The well, replied the boys. Not from a matka, asked the reporter. There is no matka, said the girls, diplomatically.
And so, to the death of the seven ITBP soldiers in a bus accident. The bus, or what remained of it, was seen across channels and mercifully, this time, we were spared the sight of bodies or the injured.
This was a major accident – until and unless we have proof to the contrary, that is how it ought to be described. However, other than repeating the details of what happened, the incident was a mere headline on TV news.
This was odd, to say the least, especially when news channels spent much of the day before, 15 August, with jawans in Arunachal Pradesh (Republic TV) and Ladakh (Aaj Tak), Siachen (Republic TV), near the LoC at Poonch (News 24), with the Coast Guard (Zee News) on INS Kolkata (NDTV). In fact, news channels tend to identify nationhood and nationalism with the armed forces very strongly.
So how is it that when there’s such an incident, where several servicemen die and many are injured, they were pretty much ignored?
Finally, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road, Transport and Highways, was dropped from the Bharatiya Janata Party Parliamentary Board, Wednesday. The news was flashed on news channels Tuesday afternoon but they didn’t break their regular programming to discuss it. Gadkari ranks amongst the four most senior leaders of the BJP. So for him to be ‘dropped’, as news channels put it, ought to be mega news, don’t you think? Deserving of immediate coverage and analysis?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)