Conspiracy Theories

From airstrikes to airplane tragedies, newsrooms are inviting experts, if only to thram them.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: July 26, 2014 4:35:44 am

India News appears to have pulled ahead of the pack in the breakfast news bulletin race, offering the 222 most important global headlines of the day in a single, fast-acting dose. It’s 22 headlines ahead of former league champion India TV’s Superhit 200, though one of the “global” headlines was a fire in a Bhilai showroom which had toasted 300 brand new motorcycles. The announcer’s sense of horror at the fate of these poor bikes was audible in his otherwise flatly telegraphic, amphetamine-powered delivery. Other headlines of the day, just for perspective — the wreckage of the lost Air Algerie flight was found, a school sheltering fleeing Palestinian families was hit by an airstrike and in Telengana, a schoolbus was rammed by a train.

Earlier in the week, the loss of yet another Malaysian Airlines flight had energised the conspiracy theorists, including the reliably dramatic Times Now. “Is this a new form of terror? Should the world gear up to collectively handle the dangers of civil strifes (sic) across the globe?” The nation wanted to know, but the only insider on this edition of Newshour, Ukrainian journalist and producer Dima Kolchinsky, played spoilsport. He said that the situation had developed because people were tired of domestic corruption and crime, and that was all the Ukrainians were concerned about.

However, other guests gave the conspiracy theories their best spin. An aviation safety expert noted that MH17 had livery very similar to that of Vladimir Putin’s plane, which could have been the real target. But an anchor scoffed at the idea of identifying airline livery at 30,000 feet. A former diplomat reminded viewers that the US had once shot down an Iranian plane carrying Haj pilgrims, but no one thought it was criminal at the time, and the anchor ticked him off soundly for being anti-American. It’s always entertaining to see a few experts thrammed, but it sort of defeats the purpose of inviting them.

The best conspiracy story appeared in print — Daily Mail had a motorist’s video of a military transport sneaking off to Russia with a Buk surface to air launching platform missing two missiles, which could have been used against MH17. Times Now called it a “sophisticated BAK” missile. Its makers should take it as a compliment, and never mind the typo, for the Buk system was deployed 35 years ago, about when Reza Pahlavi and Pol Pot bowed out of world affairs and Maggie Thatcher stepped into 10 Downing Street.

But then, weapons systems age gracefully. It is the 15th anniversary of the Kargil War today, and it is interesting to see how Bofors, which was synonymous with corruption for a whole generation, has left its past behind. Sudhir Chaudhary, maximum anchor of Zee News, revisited Kargil to focus on the Bofors FH77, the “Vijayata of Operation Vijay”. A quarter of a century after the scandal, it’s still kind of weird to see a Bofors howitzer being discussed as a weapons platform that can bring down something other than a prime minister.

The BBC has publicised a paper published in the current issue of Science which links the decline of wildlife with the growth of irregular conflicts and slavery. Its environment correspondent reported that the rise of piracy in Somalia owes to increasing competition for fishing rights. Originally, fishermen had started carrying guns to force competitors encroaching on their waters to pay fines. Then they found that ransoming their ships offered better margins than fishing, and they gave the world a headache. Deep stuff, and even more bizarre than the roza-roti outrage at Maharashtra Sadan, which refuses to leave TV screens as the Shiv Sena and the BJP continue their Hindutva tournament.

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