TV anchors’ Mann Ki Baat: A harrowing and unpleasant experience
Screaming headlines lauding the Prime Minister like “China ko karara jawab, ghutno pe leke aye PM” or “Twitter ko sunaya” also appeared without context and without explanations or nuances
I avoided watching news on Indian channels for the past seven years. But I found myself glued to the idiot box last week, watching prime time news and debates to be able to write this ‘review’.
Let me confess it was a harrowing and unpleasant experience.
I could make out neighbours watching different regressive serials on TV while I listened to prime-time debates. Decibel levels were equally high in the serials and in the news. A cacophony of panelists tried to outshout each other on news channels and they successfully ensured that viewers wholly miss the point.
The only pleasant surprise was to find many more women anchors than before on the Hindi, English and Marathi channels that I watched. What was disconcerting though was their ‘raging bull’ look and piercing, narrow eyes that would have put Lalita Pawar out of her job as the quintessential shrew in films. Granted the anchors need not look like eye candies but they can surely be gentler and speak less loudly?
The pros and cons of parasites and ‘Andolanjeevis’ dominated the debates one evening. While the anchors dominated the debates, the second most dominating voice invariably was that of the BJP spokesperson. Representatives of the Congress, more often than not, were shouted down by sundry panelists introduced as lawyers, retired armymen etc. And the least time and the least respect was reserved for the representatives of farmers’ unions.
Nobody questioned the role of the BJP, ABVP and the RSS when they were in the opposition. Not a single channel showed the Bharat bandhs, violence, protests and strikes called when non-BJP parties were in power in the states and at the Centre. No video clips were shown of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign spearheaded by RSS and Anna Hazare among others. Nobody recalled the role of these same TV channels in covering that ‘andolan’.
No mention was made of how BJP had mobilised ‘Andolanjeevis’ like Hazare, who has campaigned against every political party and leader in Maharashtra, and other social activists. Not a single anchor questioned the propriety of the Prime Minister calling protestors as parasites on the floor of Parliament.
The next day the PM explained that he had called those protestors parasites, not all, who displayed photographs of arrested "terrorists and Urban Naxals" and demanded that they be freed. But not one channel discussed how these so-called terrorists were being held for years without trial; nobody asked a question about the Malegaon blast accused Pragya Singh Thakur and nobody raised the issue of people glorifying and worshipping the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi.
Nor did a single channel point out the infamous Rath Yatra undertaken by L.K. Advani that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and where the present Prime Minister was those days.
All the international news TV channels were showing the impeachment hearing in the US Senate. Though a majority of these channels were critical of Republicans and Trump, every channel had split windows and showed what both Democrats and Republicans were saying. Now there are indeed a handful of Fox News-type channels, but imagine 50 Fox channels shouting in your face? That is what Indian news channels have come to resemble.
The other discussion was on the Toolkit "conspiracy" and not controversy. Every channel derided Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and other women who had tweeted their support for the farmers’ protest. No channel bothered to point out that Thunberg had pulled down her tweet, dropped the objectionable part and uploaded the edited toolkit. Every channel flashed the objectionable dossier on Google drive, and called it an exclusive, a scoop. It was misleading, if not unfair. Comedy just gave a miss to this country.
The disaster in Uttarakhand diverted the attention of the channels somewhat from the relentless campaign against farmers. 3D graphics took viewers to the tunnel where 35 workers were stranded and the rescue operation was on. A Hindi channel interviewed the Captain who apparently had led an Indo-US secret mission to place a detonator with plutonium tablets at one of the glaciers. The conspiracy theory that this somehow exploded and caused the flash flood helped divert attention from the hydel plants, roads and infrastructure projects causing havoc in the region. How environmental clearances were speeded up, how warnings were ignored were left untouched. No perspective was available in any of the channels either.
When the BJP was in the opposition in Maharashtra, they dissected every project and every clearance given. Now when BJP is again in the opposition in Maharashtra and a few channels and media outlets raise uncomfortable questions, the party is hard put to respond.
Almost predictably, a few stories were pushed towards the end of prime-time news. Rahul Gandhi’s jibe, “Hum do hamare do ki sarkar” insinuating that the government was working for two crony capitalists, was one of them, treated almost as a second thought. Hindi channels seemed more charitable while English channels were unanimous in saying that RG had just made it politically worse for himself.
The channels seemed to be BJP mouthpieces when covering electoral campaigning in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee invariably received the raw end of the stick while Amit Shah was given all the time he could ask for to ridicule her. The zeal with which the channels discussed the caste break-up in North and South Bengal, it seemed they were already discussing the results and the vote share.
Screaming headlines lauding the Prime Minister like “China ko karara jawab, ghutno pe leke aye PM” or “Twitter ko sunaya” also appeared without context and without explanations or nuances. Questions raised by the Congress were brushed aside as of no consequence. It was all drum rolls. If viewers wanted to know if India had ceded territory to China, they were left in the dark.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’saddress to a Kisan Mahapanchayat in Uttar Pradesh was eclipsed by her ‘dubki’ in Gangaji. ‘Vadra’ was suddenly dropped from her name when anchors took her name. Her visit to a famous temple and masjid were mentioned with elaborate visuals.
On one of the channels, the reporter claimed the priest had blessed her with a ‘Rajnitik’ mantra, whatever that meant. He hastened to add though that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had not asked for it (small mercies), before delivering the punchline, "Lekin Pujari ne unki mann ki baat padh li."