What we have watched in the last week, is extraordinary. In fact, it’s unprecedented. Even as the Russian military carpet-bombing of much of Ukraine, major Hindi and English television news channels, have spent the past seven days rolling out carpet coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict — that too, 24×7.
See for yourselves: Remote control different channels and find yourself in the midst of the ‘World at War’ (Republic TV) everywhere. You will witness non-stop action on six to eight split screens (Times Now) — missiles and bombs going off, buildings exploding, Russian convoys on highways (Republic TV, TV9 Bharatvarsh), tanks entering not only different Ukrainian cities but also advancing through the TV studios (Times Now, India TV, Zee News) and bombers flying dangerously above the TV anchors’ heads. Smoke, smoke and more smoke….
You will see brave Indian TV reporters in Ukraine—the latest ones to get into the ‘war zone’ as channels refer to it, are ABP News and Times Now—walking streets, braving attacks (India Today), travelling to different cities and trying to talk to Ukrainians (now, if only all of them spoke English). You will see a host of military men and former ambassadors —‘talking heads that help understand the war,’ according to CNN News18.
All of this and much more, each day and every night.
This is puzzling. While the Ukraine-Russia ‘mahayudh’ does have serious strategic and economic implications for India, and thousands of Indians studied in Ukraine, do we really need to know about every air-raid signal in Kharkiv or Kherson? Why, even BBC World and CNN International take a break from the war coverage to other scheduled programmes or news developments.
But not Indian channels – they have remained in Ukraine throughout and are so obsessed with the war that they have almost forgotten there is an election campaign in Uttar Pradesh.
Honestly? The average Indian viewer has only so much air space, sorry mind space, for Ukraine. Many of us would be hard put to locate it on a map and couldn’t care less about President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or whether Mariupol is encircled, or Lviv is being bombed. This is just a gigantic video war game to most of us.
So, why we are being besieged by the 24×7 coverage of the war? Because, war makes good TV.
What Indian students told TV channels
Having said that, news channels have done well to reflect the condition of Indian students, stranded in Ukraine. Students interviewed by different channels have told stories of woe, of being stuck in their homes, hostels, in shelters, and of going without food.
Channels have also reflected the students’ ambivalence towards the Indian government’s efforts to help them return home.
There’s the clip from India Today of reporter Gaurav Sawant who is in Ukraine speaking to the anchor in Noida when a few Indian students steal up behind him, one waves, asks for assistance and says they received no help and that no Indian officials had been in touch or available to them.
When Sawant asked a few other students, ‘Any trouble?’ getting to the railway station, one said no, but the other one said they had a great deal of trouble. They had walked this far on their own, and said the Indian embassy did nothing. Sawant immediately backed off and explained that cars were unavailable. Ahem.
Times Now met students at Hrushiv who said not a single person from the embassy had been there to help them, which nonplussed the reporter. NDTV 24×7 broadcast the video of a student at a railway station: She said there were no arrangements, no Indian officials around, and that the Indian students had not been allowed to board the trains because they were Indian.
BBC World said as much too. Reporter Lipika Pelham revealed that many Indian and African students said that they were not allowed to board trains, were beaten up, and that Indian students believed this was because of India’s abstention in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, returning students at Delhi airport told news channels that the Indian embassy had been of great help and they were grateful to the Indian government. Some went so far as to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, albeit after some prompting.
The news channels did promote the Narendra Modi government’s Operation Ganga the best they could — ‘Bharat won’t rest one bit till every Indian is safe,’ declared CNN News18.
But there was also some unnecessary insensitivity. After news came in that one Indian student, Naveen, had died in a Russian bomb attack in Kharkiv Tuesday, India Today reporter Rajesh Pawar expressed his anguish at the death but seemed to blame students for their plight. He said that the Indian government had warned students to leave Ukraine four days before the outbreak of violence but some students and their parents decided they ought to stay put—they didn’t take it ‘seriously’.
What Russian TV shows
While Western news channels, domestic or international have portrayed Russian President Vladimir Putin as the villain of the war, commentator Fared Zakaria going so far as to call him ‘evil’ (CNN International), Russia Today, which is available to Indian DTH platform subscribers, ascribed everything to the evil genius of the West, in particular NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and its expansionist ambitions. It repeatedly focused on China’s statement on the conflict, emphasising its criticism of the US and the West.
It blamed Ukraine for discriminating against the Russian-speaking regions along the northeast border, of not respecting the vote for independence by what the channel called the ‘sovereign states’ of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are considered a part of Ukraine and were first ‘liberated’ by Russia.
Russia Today also dwelt on the alleged attacks by the Ukrainian forces on these regions that left people badly injured and homes destroyed. It interviewed people in these regions who had hunkered down in bunkers, who cried because they had lost a loved one, or had tears of joy in their eyes at the sight of Russian troops.
Views are personal.