On Sunday, the Maharashtra government announced “the biggest ever” farm loan waiver in the state; the GST Council lowered taxes on 66 items. On Monday, a bandh for a separate Gorkhaland state began. On Tuesday, two farmers’ suicides in MP came to light. Earlier, on Friday, BJP President Amit Shah referred to Mahatma Gandhi as “bahut chatur baniya” and on Sunday, Congressman Sandeep Dikshit said that the army chief had spoken like a “sadak ka goonda”.
These are just some of the big news developments over the weekend.
On Monday, news channels went after the Congress and Dikshit for his comment, during the day and in the super debates at night. For variety, Times Now released a Moon TV sting on the AIADMK and “MLAs for sale”, while CNN News 18 caught “Dr Death” and false degree certificates being sold in Kolkata. India Today stuck into Vijay Mallya’s alleged use of money borrowed from the State Bank of India to fund his IPL team while Republic, after excoriating Dikshit, delved into the “Enron scandal” dating back more than a decade.
Yes, there were discussions on the farmers’ plight and the loan waivers on Hindi and business channels as well as RSTV and Mirror Now, but precious little on the leading channels in English — which, last Thursday, were involved in an unseemly on-air fight over who occupied the No. 1 position: “Arnab has won”, claimed Republic, to which Times Now immediately shot back, “Always No. 1 Times Now”. These pursued their own agendas — something BJP’s Sambit Patra had accused NDTV of doing almost a fortnight ago.
On Sunday, CNN debated how the former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to a select Senate committee last Thursday was differently reported by “liberal”, “mainstream” media like CNN, and “right-wing” “mainstream” media like Fox News. The latter dismissed Comey with contempt, the former found his testimony extremely damaging to President Trump. In fact, while everyone from late night talks shows like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel to The New York Times and The Washington Post have questioned Trump and his Russian connection, Fox has called it “insane”, damaging to President Trump. In fact, while everyone from late night talks shows like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel to The New York Times and The Washington Post have questioned Trump and his Russian connection, Fox has called it “insane”, “madness” and “boring scandal”. So, depending on what media you consume, you will form diametrically consume, you will form diametrically opposing views on the Trump-Russia controversy. Or, as Fox anchor Tucker Carlson said, “What you think is happening often really isn’t happening”.
The same goes for much of what we see — or don’t see. If you watch most news channels, you will think we are at constant war with Pakistan; that the army is in some sort of mortal jeopardy and that the opposition is always “playing politics”. For instance, when Rahul Gandhi tried to visit Mandsaur after police firing killed five farmers, the headlines screamed, “Rahul plays politics with farmers’ deaths”.
(By the way, if his going to Italy on a Roman holiday or to visit his grandmother deserves a discussion on Republic prime time — “Rahul flees”, “Italian holiday after MP picnic” — doesn’t the Maharashtra chief minister’s handling of the farmers’ protests, loan waiver, deserve the same courtesy?)
Back to this favourite TV phrase: If politicians — in the government or the opposition — don’t “play” or practice politics, what are they supposed to play — cricket? Well, some of them do that too! Seriously, how can TV news hold politicians responsible for responding politically to events in the country? On TV, the phrase has acquired such negative connotations, like it is a crime or worse, a dirty word.
Now, to Dikshit. TV news chose to highlight him, rightly criticise his comments and give it hours of coverage; did Amit Shah’s comments on Gandhi receive anywhere near as much coverage? Would be happy to be contradicted but these went largely unnoticed. So much so that many viewers would not even know he made them — if they watched only select TV news, that is.
Similarly, the shortage of meaningful TV discussions, or in-depth TV coverage of the farmers’ problems, the problems with loan waivers of the kinds being doled in UP and Maharashtra, the Gorkhaland agitation on the main news channels, creates the impression that these are not important.
Like they didn’t happen, isn’t that what Tucker Carlson said? He added that what you hear (or see) and accept uncritically, you ought to question. Do follow his advice.