While you were sleeping early Tuesday or counting sheep, TV news anchors were wide-eyed so as to not miss even one air brush between the American President and the Indian Prime Minister. On Monday, News X wanted to know “Hug or Handshake?”; a wakeful and ever watchful CNN News 18 tr(i)ump-hantly counted, “3 hugs and 2 handshakes”.
Not bad for two gentlemen whom we saw perched rather uncomfortably on the edge of their seats in the White House where Times Now had claimed they would meet for “5 hours, one to one”. Given Donald Trump’s “limited attention span” as Arnab Goswami called it (Republic), this would have ranked as Modi’s greatest achievement — by far— on his US trip, ahead of the hugs, handshakes and “trumping Pakistan” with the US declaring Hizbul’s Syed Salahuddin “a global terrorist” hours before the meeting between the “True Friends” — the hashtag on many English news channels after the President of Twitter tweeted it.
After sober reflection on the outcomes of the PM’s Washington visit, Sunday evening, news anchors were ecstatic by the Salahuddin announcement 24 hours later — God only knows what they did when the PM embraced Trump — er, hug each other? Sorry, can’t say, was sheeping, sorry sleeping. On Tuesday morning, the optics were figure-huggin’ good, and by evening, the channels debated the successes of the trip, avoiding the misses, for as former diplomat Hardeep Puri argued, why talk of the Paris agreement when you know that Trump has dropped out of it (NDTV 24×7)?
Nothing, and no one, not even Modi, can keep leading English and Hindi news channels from their favourite destination since last July: Kashmir. Tragically, with reason on Friday, after the horrific lynching of DSP Ayub Pandit. There was non-stop coverage across channels — barring a break to allow NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind to file his nomination papers — with Goswami calling for President’s Rule in the state during a special afternoon debate (Republic).
On the weekend channels like Times Now, Republic and India Today debated the “beastly behaviour by Kashmiri against Kashmiri” (Republic) and the silence on the incident of leading separatists such as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
On Monday, incidents of stone-pelting in the Valley on Eid followed by a video showing Abdul Rehman Makki (JuD) supporting them, and then America’s Salahuddin moment meant Kashmir occupied most of airtime space. By Tuesday evening, Gaurav Sawant, who always puts India First got into an argument with his Pakistani guest, Tariq Pirzada, shouting, “every neighbour hates you, India hates you’’. When anchors behave like their guests on their own show and on an equal footing, you know there is something distressingly wrong with TV news.
The lynching of 15-year old Junaid Khan in Ballabhgarh, also last Thursday, was reported and debated on channels like India Today and NDTV 24×7 but the overall coverage was much less and far more muted than for Ayub. As if the attack on Junaid was somehow less important, inhuman or intolerable.
Pakistan is a magnificent obsession with some news channels. That these allow our neighbour to hijack the news and diminish almost all other issues, grants the country more importance than it deserves. Pakistanis must be delighted that they are the No.1 news on many Indian channels.
Some Hindi channels are holding out hope. They discuss other topics in India. For instance, Adityanath’s 100 days as UP CM was in focus on Monday and Tuesday evening on ABP, Aaj Tak, India Voice, and each raised questions on the law and order situation in the state. Swaraj Express covered the plight of farmers, so did India News, while News 24 highlighted 27 farmer suicides in 16 days in Madhya Pradesh. Channels like News 18, News State, Samay Rajasthan looked at protests and problems with the GST in relation to cloth merchants and the price of sports items. So did the business channels.
It’s nobody’s case that English news channels do not cover or discuss these issues but with much less zeal and airtime.
Recommendation: Do visit Zee Café on weekday nights 10 pm where BBC First is offering you drinks with Fleming — The Man Who Would Be Bond, London under the Nazis in Len Deighton’s SS-GB, a Class of monstrous apparitions a la Dr Who, smoking murders with Maigret (the friendly Rowan Mr Bean Atkinson as the famous French detective) and War and Peace in Russia (where else?). At last, a bit of Queen’s English and good old fashioned drama series — nobody does them better than old Blighty.