There was torrential rainfall and floods in parts of Kerala and Uttarakhand, which we saw swim past the TV reporters who managed to stay afloat. ‘From Pakistan to Bangladesh,’ Hindus were being ‘targeted’, according to ABP News; in Jammu and Kashmir, ‘xenophobic strikes’ claimed 11 lives and the Indian Army launched ‘Mission All Out’ in Poonch to eliminate terrorism, revealed News 18 India, but India Today had a far graver concern furrowing its brow: Would ‘Aryan spend Diwali at home?’ Or, to put it in a rhyming couplet, ‘Will he get bail/Or stay in jail?’
‘Jail or bail’, ‘Bail or jail’ rang out the chorus line from other news channels Wednesday while Zee News expressed sympathy for the entire Shah Rukh Khan family: ‘Mannat hogi poori?’ it asked, punning on the name of the actor’s home in Mumbai.
The answer came soon after 2.30 pm: ‘No bail for Aryan Khan’ (CNN News18) ‘Aryan Khan will stay in jail’ (India TV). This came as no surprise to loyal viewers of Zee Hindustan, which had breathlessly informed us Wednesday morning that Aryan’s WhatsApp chats pointed to an ‘actress connection’, a possible foreign hand and an international drug cartel – in other words, ‘Conspiracies, chats and charges’ (Mirror Now).
Images and footage of Aryan Khan – ‘Qaidi no. 956’ as India Today rather unkindly called him – with his hallmark flop of hair and SRK nose, have made him the most famous person on television for the last 17 days, since his detention on the Cordelia cruise ship. And although channels have been preoccupied with developments in Punjab or Uttar Pradesh, Lakhimpur in particular, the last fortnight, at no stage did they shift the spotlight away, entirely, from Shah Rukh Khan’s son.
India Today went behind bars at Arthur Road Jail, where Aryan is imprisoned and told us that he enjoyed a video call with parents Shah Rukh and Gauri, that they had sent him money with which he bought ‘snacks’, that he was ‘counseled’ by Sameer Wankhede of the Narcotics Control Bureau and had promised to be ‘good citizen’ and ‘serve the nation…’ (Can we hear the national anthem, please?)
The channel also informed us that Gauri Khan had ordered ‘no kheer’ at Mannat till her son was released from jail.
News Nation assured its viewers that there was no ‘VIP treatment’ for Aryan, he was treated like other inmates. He gave his share of prison food to others while he ate biscuits and chips he had purchased. At Mannat, meanwhile, there was complete ‘sannata’ – cut to a visual of the silent locked gates of SRK’s home.
Guess it’s too much to ask the news channels to leave the family alone?
TV has shed inhibitions and decency
Coverage of the killing of migrants in Kashmir and the Army’s Poonch offensive has been comprehensive but not always sensitive or well-informed.
For example, why parade the bodies of those who have been killed, before our eyes, sometimes without even the flimsy mosaic film? On News X, we clearly saw the victim Supinder Kaur, a school principal shot dead in Srinagar. And most other channels were careless about hiding identities. Similar indifference was displayed on NDTV 24×7 when it showed us the body of an advocate shot in Shahjahanpur and other channels, which ran footage of two women mowed down by a speeding vehicle on the Jalandhar-Phagwara highway.
Television news appears to have shed its inhibitions and sensibility: How many times did you see the SUV slam into the protestors at Lakhimpur or the ‘lynching’ of BJP workers?
Next, why thrust yourself, your camera and your microphones into the faces of the bereaved families? Like other channels, Republic TV visited the home of victim Raja Reshi, a migrant worker killed in Kulgam, and talked to his brother whose eyes were sightless gaping holes on his face. ABP News found his female relatives, still and stone-faced – why expose them so?
Then there were the railway station conversation reporters conducted with migrant workers who had decided to return to their homes from J&K. Republic TV took a long shot of them seated in a row of chairs and we saw other reporters advance on them with cameras – you thought one of them would yell out, ‘Hands up!’ any moment.
The questions they asked went something like this – on India TV: ‘Why are you going home?’ ‘You’re going because you are scared (after the killing of other migrants)?’
Or this, on Republic TV: ‘You want to go home? So you’re going home? Why are you going home?’
And this on NDTV India: ‘You are going home because of the current atmosphere, are you?’
Mission All Out for TV too
The other notable feature of the coverage has been of the Army’s ‘Mission All Out’: Across channels the visuals are similar – armoured vehicles rattle by, soldiers either march past or are seen taking up positions, rifles ready to fire while the hills are alive with the sound of gunshots. Headlines such as ‘They can kill bodies (huh?) they can’t hurt the spirit’ (CNN News18) are accompanied by the image of a man with a heavy rifle, his head and face wrapped in a cloth – presumably the terrorist.
Most channels have sent their reporters to the frontline in Poonch, cheek by jowl with some of the fighting units. None is more enthusiastic or intrepid than the reporter of Times Now: On Sunday, he accompanied the Army, and hid behind a boulder when the firing intensified. On Monday, he explained how the terrain was treacherous – “…very difficult to walk… it is (only) the grit and determination (of the forces) to flush out the terrorists (that keeps them going)…. Their eyes are glued (to where the terrorists are believed to be hiding)… they can’t even blink….”
Lastly, time to play ball as the T20 World Cup pads up this weekend and gets ready to run between the wickets in the UAE (Star Sports). India face Pakistan on Sunday if channels like Zee News permit them to cross the boundary – ‘From Kashmir to Kanyakumari comes the demand – no cricket with Pakistan,’ declared Zee.
Views are personal.