New Delhi: Prime time debates Tuesday were dominated by discussions on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in India. Some channels also chose to focus on former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s Rajya Sabha nomination.
Meanwhile, the panic around the pandemic was visible even in international news channels like Fox News and CNN.
Over in the US, Al Jazeera showed viewers the “empty” and “quiet” corporate hubs of New York and New Jersey, that had been emptied out after government orders of social distancing. The anchor explained that in New Jersey, 11 days ago there was only one reported case of COVID-19 but now there were a shocking 178, including a 5-year old child. Next door in New York there were approximately 950 cases. He discussed how the governors of both NY and Jersey, who were upset with the “slow response of the Federal government in Washington”, had gotten together by taking unilateral action and ordering a shut down, and even curfew in some parts.
BBC’s focus, however, was on a big announcement in the House of Commons by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Raab advised all British nationals to avoid “non-essential foreign travel to tackle the spread of coronavirus” for an initial period of 30 days. In Parliament, Raab emphasized that those who still wished to travel would do so knowing the risk, and also knowing they might not be able to travel back due to restrictions. They must be “realistic about the destruction they are willing to endure”, he warned. BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale called the move “unprecedented”, as no British foreign secretary has ever said don’t go abroad unless it’s absolutely essential.
Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who had recently grabbed headlines in India after Arnab Goswami was compared to him, asked, “Could the federal government have been better prepared for a pandemic?”
Carlson answered his own question, “Of course, we have international travel. It was coming at some point. Government failures are inevitable… The only person, you and your family can count on is you.”
CNN highlighted the “sweeping restrictions” in the San Francisco area where 7 million people were ordered to “shelter in place” and were asked to only leave the house to buy groceries. Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief health correspondent told viewers, “I understand what you’re hearing is pretty concerning, but we’re going to get through this.”
Back home in India, there were other matters concerning TV anchors. ABP News’ anchor Rubika Liyaquat wondered, “Kya Justice Gogoi ko sarkar ne inaam diya” (Has the government rewarded Justice Gogoi?). She refuted AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s use of the phrase “quid pro quid” and said, “His stance doesn’t hold value since he has neither formed a government nor has been part of any decision making process.”
On NDTV 24×7, host Sanket Upadhyay grilled Congress leader and Supreme Court advocate Kapil Sibal about former CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s Rajya Sabha nomination. “My silence will be the answer” was his steely response and diplomatic response, which did not change no matter how much Upadhyay probed him. But when asked about the central government pointing out that there was nothing illegal about Gogoi’s post-retirement appointment, Sibal retorted saying legality was not the answer to everything. “There’s something called morality, and very few political establishments follow that principle”, he said, citing examples of how people had been promoted despite being prosecuted for murder, or transferred after giving an unpopular ruling.
Anjana Om Kashyap on Aaj Tak shed some light on the relentless pursuits of the government to battle the pandemic. In light of Maharashtra reporting the most number of coronavirus cases, Kashyap said, “Sabse badi chunauti Uddhav Thackeray ke liye hai” (Uddhav Thackeray has the biggest challenge of all).
Sudhir Chaudhary, Zee News anchor, asserted that the world was both “surprised and agitated” over India’s timely response to coronavirus and how it was able to contain it. Chaudhary seemed to be the only one convinced of this logic, “Few number of people being tested doesn’t mean that the danger isn’t great. It simply means that India wants to curb the spread of both coronavirus and fear.”
He also went on to compare India’s treatment of coronavirus patients to Pakistan’s treatment of its patients. Do we really want to compare ourselves with Pakistan?
On India Today, host Rajdeep Sardesai opened his prime time segment by saying that news around coronavirus had become a blur of excess information and disinformation. So what was the channel’s counter? A live FAQ session answered by the country’s top medical professional, AIIMS director Dr. Randeep Guleria, but “rapid-fire” style. ‘Koffee with Karan’ fans, are you watching?
Who needs to get tested, how long does it take, should everyone wear masks, were some of the questions Sardesai rattled off. Dr. Guleria responded calmly to each one, saying that without travel histories or contact with lab-confirmed cases, one need not get tested as the change in weather had also caused a lot of cold and cough in general. He also said that incubation periods could last anywhere from 5 to 14 days or more, and no, not everyone needs to wear a mask.
On ‘The Newshour’ on Times Now, anchor Padmaja Joshi questioned if the “low number of casualties” was a function of low rates of testing. Are there enough labs, are there enough kits, she asked. The answer was a big no, for Dr. Prasad Rao, Director of Internal Medicine at Medanta, who said he did not think there were enough labs for testing. But Joshi also pointed out that according to the Health Ministry & Indian Council for Medical Research, a simple mantra was being followed — “Scale up, optimise and rationalise”. Whatever that means.