Telecope: The brawl on screen

On David Headley’s deposition, news TV was at its most offensive

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: February 11, 2016 8:22 pm
Mumbai: **FILE** Smoke is seen billowing out of the ground and first floor of the Taj Hotel in south Mumbai during security personnel's "Operation Cyclone" following the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley deposed on Monday at a Mumbai court through a video link. PTI Photo (PTI2_8_2016_000258B) Smoke is seen billowing out of the ground and first floor of the Taj Hotel in south Mumbai during security personnel’s “Operation Cyclone” following the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley deposed on Monday at a Mumbai court through a video link. (Source: PTI file photo)

We didn’t need David Coleman Headley to indulge in a spot of Pak-bashing. It’s a favourite hammer and tongs issue on Times Now and Hindi news channels. What Headley did, with his deposition before a Mumbai court this week, was to give news anchors an opportunity to go even more on the offensive — and be more offensive — than before.

It gave us a chance to assess David CH’s hair growth and development: Saw photographs/ videos of him with sleeked back short back and sides, long combed back and sides, sleeked back with bushy beard, and now balding on every side.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hair is always neat. That hasn’t been much of a help: He may lunch, sup, tea in Lahore, Paris or Delhi, but there are still no peace talks between India and Pakistan — not on television, leastways, as good a barometer as any of relations between the two countries.

David Headley Timeline

News shows are replete with the worst kind of xenophobia. Monday, News X, a discussion on Headley’s revelations saw the Indian experts and anchor Rahul Shivshankar stiff with self-righteous complacency: Headley had implicated the Pakistani state in the 26/11terrorist attack. Once all the Indians had agreed with one another on this, retired Colonel Farooqui and one Brigadier Ali from Pakistan were asked for opinions. The colonel promptly questioned Headley’s trustworthiness — “you always assess the quality of the informer…” He was immediately interrupted by Shivshankar.

Whereupon, an incensed Brigadier Ali began to yell: “You are a liar, you are supporting criminals, you tell lies to your nation, Headley is a drug addict…” Whereupon Seshadri Chari (BJP) said that we’d listened to “this nonsense for long enough”. Ali, ineffectually, repeated, “You are a liar,” and was interrupted by General Bakshi who pleaded for rational arguments. Chari smirked: Rationality from them? Pah (or words to that effect).

Emboldened by such rudeness, Shivshankar questioned the Pakistanis’ “decency” and Brigadier Ali’s “drink” schedule — by which he didn’t mean orange juice. The Pakistani guests yelled that they were not being given a fair chance to speak. Shivshankar advised them repeatedly to “calm down”, to stop this “silly, trite nonsense… don’t lecture us, don’t talk rubbish.” He then muted the volume so we could no longer hear them. Really democratic behaviour.

On Tuesday, Colonel Farooqui was on India News. After the Indian guests had spoken on Headley and Pakistan, anchor Deepak Chaurasia turned to Farooqui. He accused the R&AW of training rebels in Pakistan. The BJP’s spokesperson cut in: He had “serious objections” to Pakistanis with military background being on the show. Don’t invite them, he told Chaurasia, they lobby for the terrorists. A bucolic Farooqui burst out: “I don’t talk like him, you have talked for half an hour… both sides should get a chance to talk… you are not worth talking to…” Chaurasia scolded him for bringing up the R&AW, the other Indians began to speak at the same time, Colonel Sahib walked out.

The same, worse, perhaps happens on Pakistani news TV — the best reason we should avoid it.

Karan Thapar’s To the Point (India Today) also hosted two Pakistanis: Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former high commissioner to India and Lieutenant General Talat Masood. Khan welcomed any evidence on 26/11, while Masood questioned Headley’s “credibility”. Thapar challenged both, but allowed the Pakistanis to have their say. At least, they talked to each other without rubbishing one another.

Last words to Satyabrata Pal, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan: The dialogue between India and Pakistan, he said, hovered between “life and death”. Since India was nowadays more of a “Hindu rashtra”, there was always the chance of rebirth (for the talks).

Not if you listen to TV.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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