New Delhi: News channels Thursday were focused on the coronavirus pandemic and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-anticipated address to the nation at 8 pm on it. Aaj Tak highlighted the panic hoarding prior to the prime minister’s speech after rumours of a total lockdown while Zee News dispelled these rumours. Republic TV was all praises for Modi but NDTV 24×7 and India Today remained skeptical.
On Aaj Tak’s ‘Dangal’, anchor Rohit Sardana showed clips of empty supermarkets that were raided by people who feared a lockdown after Modi’s address. Sardana questioned how Modi would address the issues surrounding COVID-19 as “ek taraf corona ka challenge hain, dusri taraf iska aarthik assar” (on one hand there are coronavirus challenges and on the other the economic impact).
He remarked that this public health crisis also brought political opportunism with it— “Corona pe rajnitik rotiya sekne ke bhi kami nahi hai” (There is no shortage of political opportunism due to coronavirus).
Zee News put all these rumours to rest with the special ‘Abki baar afwah prachan prahar’ (now an attack on rumours)— quite a mouthful. The anchor said more than the infection, coronavirus had caused rumor-mongering. She asked BJP MP Pratap Chandra Sarangi about the rumours, who denied any such lockdown. Sarangi also warned against deceitful, selfish people who had turned to hoarding and black market trade to feast upon people’s anxiety, underlining that there was no “panic situation”.
ABP News kept things light with their ‘coronakodhona’ campaign featuring veteran cricketers Arun Lal, Virendra Sehwag, and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. They all reminded viewers to — you guessed it — wash their hands. ‘Viru paaji‘ also told viewers to wear masks at all times and to maintain a distance of at least three metres.
The real debates began after Modi’s address. NDTV 24×7’s Anchor Vishnu Som called the speech an “effort at public training at a mass level” on ‘Left, Right, Centre’. He questioned whether it was a “smart initial move”. Medanta Chairman Dr. Naresh Trehan thought so, he called the speech an “extremely well crafted communication” for the public, which was direct and called upon people to fight against an “invisible enemy”. Dr. Dang’s Lab founder Dr. Navin Dang also felt it was an intelligent and “non-technical” address for the common masses. He disagreed with Som’s critique about not addressing the issue of low testing, saying that this was not the right forum to talk about it.
Republic TV host Arnab Goswami waxed eloquent about Modi and said the speech “tactically touched upon our conscience”. He said that the address called for asymptomatic, young and healthy people to function in the interest of the country.
Economist Sanjeev Sanyal agreed wholeheartedly, “We may be a poor country, but we are rich in social capital and he (Modi) is leveraging that social capital.”
On India Today, Rajdeep Sardesai was not quite as convinced. Was it the right message, or could it have been more specific, he asked.
K. Sujatha Rao, former union health secretary, admitted that while Modi had the “extraordinary ability” to break down complex information, she was disappointed by the speech. She wished he had spoken about increasing the budget for public health action and more testing, labs, etc.
On Times Now’s ‘The Newshour with Navika Kumar’ there were murmurs of skepticism too.
Kumar lauded Modi’s initiative to make people clap in their balconies during the ‘Janta curfew’ to thank those providing essential services, and BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also made a heartfelt pledge to “stand with India to fight this pandemic called corona”.
However, political analyst Tauseef Ur Rehman said he was more interested to know about the existing health facilities in India, including the number of available hospital beds, how many isolation centers existed, if masks would be handed out for free and how hospitals were being sanitised.