A “My dear brothers and sisters”, “beloved countrymen”, “Team India” — President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have promised us a “New India” in the next five years. In his first televised Independence Day address as the president, Kovind asked for a “compassionate” country forging ahead with “nation building”, Modi exhorted us to unite India, abjure violence in the name of faith and reminded us that neither rhetoric nor politics, “na gaali”, “na goli” will solve problems in Kashmir, only a warm embrace. Jai Hind, Vande Mataram.
It’s a pity that some of our brothers and sisters in the media are (wilfully?) hard of hearing. Perhaps because President Kovind spoke in a soft, statesmanlike manner — entirely alien to TV news culture — and PM Modi expressed all the correct sentiments — hey, what’s that?
Modi’s first Independence Day speech in 2014 remains his best TV moment — it was a rousing call to fight social evils. In the last two years, the soaring rhetoric has been weighed down by too many crores in his government’s achievements.
Some TV news channel editors and anchors seem weighed down by their super prime time ultra-nationalism. More “patriotic” than all their competitors — and 1.25 crore compatriots — they show little of the compassion President Kovind spoke or even common civility; they are supersonic loud, impolite, violent with their verbal “golis” — everything the PM advised against.
Last week, Arnab Goswami weighed in against, an “opportunistic” “man called Hamid Ansari” (Republic). That “man” had been the Vice President of India for 10 years. In a Rajya Sabha TV interview with Karan Thapar just before he stepped down as VP — he spoke of “a feeling of unease”, amongst Muslims. “Horrible!”, “Hypocritical”, denounced Goswami, “How can you talk like that?” He attacked Ansari, mocked him, saying he should have “quit” as VP if he felt Muslims were “insecure”, instead of enjoying the “perks” of office. More in the same insulting manner followed during the one-hour show.
Disagree with Mr Ansari until the cows come home (it’s still okay to say that, right?); denigrating him, is to insult not only him but the office he represented, that of the vice president. In Goswami’s words, it was “horrible” and made us not just uneasy, but queasy too.
On to Times Now. Singling out these two channels because they claim be the No.1 news channels. The Newshour topic? Singing Vande Mataram and celebrating, Independence Day in madrasas as directed by the Uttar Pradesh authorities.
Now, you’d think the issue to address was why only madrasas were so directed but no, it was “What’s communal about patriotism?”
Half-way into the scream and shout match, Ghanshyam Tiwari, Samajwadi Party, referred to the death of 30 children at Gorakhpur’s BRD hospital. Anchor-editor Navika Kumar immediately attacked the previous SP government for neglect and told him not to “lecture” them. Senior BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra jumped in where anyone must fear to tread, saying, yes, it was a “sad”, “bad” day, the deaths a “sensitive” matter but Vande Mataram was “equally sensitive” (really?). As Tiwari objected, “It is not, it is not… shame on you…”, Kumar agreed it was a “sad” day, Times Now was following the story, “but let us not beat our chests” as if this did not happen in Akhilesh Yadav’s time — “you are bringing this up because you are running away from the real issue”.
Really? Now what could be more “real” than human life and death?
For Kumar, and more so for the leading spokesman of the ruling BJP at the Centre and in UP, to be so dismissive of the human tragedy, one that involved young children, although not the topic of the debate (since when have they stuck to topics in these debates?), is in”sensitive”, un”real” and surely reflects misplaced priorities?
Many of us have said for a very long time that there is something very wrong with TV news. We rest our case.
Republic and Times Now did go after the UP government on the weekend — along with all news channels. As Aaj Tak asked, “Are only cows safe (in this country)?” and CNN News suggested “we are on a ventilator”. However, fundamental, “real” problems facing people in the country — the outbreak of swine flu, floods, crop distress, poor power supply, transport, infrastructure — subjects the PM addressed at the Red Fort — seldom, if ever, make it to these prime time punch and counter punch shows.
When will TV news get real or is that an unrealistic demand?