Salman Khan emerged from the sessions court in Mumbai. Hundreds of TV news reporters rushed towards him like a swarm of bees, the mikes in their hands waiting to sting him. “Judge ne apna faisla suna diya, aapko kaisa lag raha hai?”
No, it didn’t happen quite like that but it could have: this is so often the first question TV news asks in every situation. The coverage of the Salman hit-and-run case, immediately after the verdict had found him “GUILTY” (as Times Now and Headlines Today stamped on footage of Khan outside his Galaxy Apartments home), showed us why people in Nepal want the Indian media to leave, and why Delhi’s chief minister demands its (preposterous) public trial.
First, speed before sense: the DD News reporter sped along but didn’t take us with him. Perhaps the noise outside the courtroom garbled his voice. On India TV, at least one reporter was gasping because he had neglected to breathe while listing out Khan’s “guilty” actions. Meanwhile, India TV and Aaj Tak headlined Khan’s reaction to the verdict — Salman cries, they cried out.
Zee News was rather like a soap opera. The anchor described Salman’s previous flirtations with jailhouse rock: “He has been to jail in Jodhpur, he has stayed there” (like it was a hotel?). Then came this: “Inside the court, the judge told the superstar the sentence could be 10 years. Did he have anything to say? Salman’s eyes turned red, he didn’t speak. Once he was found guilty, he felt unwell.” Now, how did Zee News see the colour or his eyes or check his physiological condition?
Times Now reported that there were disruptions in the courtroom by “people who are not desirable” as well as those who are “overheated”. Huh?
On Tuesday evening, most news channels had promised viewers carpet coverage of the Salman verdict throughout Wednesday. They kept their word. After the verdict, they spent a few hours speculating on the sentence: one year, two years… That there was other news being made elsewhere did not bother them: for instance, Sonia Gandhi was speaking in the Lok Sabha (reading out a speech) — a rarity. Saw the live telecast of her speech on only NDTV 24×7 (and of course Lok Sabha TV); the others stayed with the “major” story of the day (Rajdeep Sardesai on Headlines Today) — Salman Khan.
So what have we here? Excessive coverage, incoherence, sensationalism, melodrama, creative journalism and questionable news priorities. Much of which we saw in the coverage of the earthquake in Nepal — which was rather like the coverage of last year’s Jammu and Kashmir floods. As reported in last week’s column, the coverage was over the top — continuous, with some channels fielding a dozen reporters (Times Now), many of them at a loss for breath and words as they ran for soundbytes; sensational headlines: “6000 DEAD” (ABP), “Aftershocks reverberated” (Headlines Today), “Bhayanak Bhukamp” (ABP).There was “exclusive” footage (CNN-IBN), microphones thrust into faces like a Floyd Mayweather punch. And not a little jingoism led by DD News, which celebrated India’s great humanitarian effort with long lists of the aid extended (remember two tonnes of biscuits?). Cannot recall seeing any rescue operations by Nepali forces.
Of course, there was plenty of good coverage but, nevertheless, Nepalis have asked the Indian media to go home. TV news channels may be mystified, even hurt, by this rejection, after they made such a herculean effort to cover the earthquake’s impact.
Almost tempted to ask them, “Ab aapko kaisa lag raha hai?”