Delhi. Wednesday morning. You awoke, blinking at the prospect of another day obscured by a grey sheet of pollution outside your nose (suffocating you) and DeMo on everyone’s lips. Between them, they had choked up the news flow on Tuesday.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said demonetisation, announced by the prime minister a year ago on November 8, was “organised loot and legalised plunder”; Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it was “morally, ethically” and “politically correct”. The BJP wanted to observe Wednesday as a black day for black money, the Opposition as a black day for the Indian economy. Which one was it? Surely, there would be blanket coverage of notebandi’s first anniversary on Wednesday to clear some of the confusion? Or TV news would blank their screens in protest against the noxious gases clouding their vision more than anybody else’s?
No such luck. The morning TV screen was filled with pictures of a little boy as news broke of the CBI’s investigation into the Pradyuman murder case which “revealed” that a Ryan School student had killed the young boy and not the bus driver who had been detained for the crime. “Breaking now” on Times Now, “First” on CNN News 18, “Exclusive” “Details of the CBI probe with India Today now”, “accessed” by Republic with “CBI revelations” on NDTV 24×7, trashed the Gurgaon police that originally investigated the case.
Photos and videos of the young boy — in his school uniform, in festival clothes, in play clothes, dancing, singing — was this necessary? — or the bus conductor, handcuffed and hapless in police custody, was all that we could see. One set of TV reporters rushed to interview the latter’s family, just as they had in September when he was first accused, another set off for the family of the Class XI student who allegedly killed the boy.
It was sensational stuff and received the treatment. Although pollution stories broke through occasionally, along with the video of an Indigo passenger being roughed up, the subject of heated discussions on Tuesday evening — demonetisation and all the meetings for or against it — was notable by its absence. You may well have forgotten that one year ago the PM took us by surprise by announcing the withdrawal of high currency notes on TV.
The Ryan school case was based on the CBI probe “accessed” by news channels. That all news channels had it within seconds of each other suggests the access was generous. Some may wonder at the timing of the CBI’s probe revelations on “Black” Wednesday but unlike TV news channels and social media, let’s not speculate.
More interesting, and something which should concern our investigating authorities, is the ease with which they are springing leaks — or being “accessed”, the euphemism most often employed by news channels. Times Now and Republic TV should also check their internal plumbing because no sooner has one of them got a leaked document than it appears on the other channel.
Earlier this week, Sonia Gandhi’s alleged letter to P. Chidambaram during the UPA regime, purportedly asking for a go-slow on an investigation involving journalist Tarun Tejpal, appeared on the two channels and News X.
CNN News 18 has been carrying revelations on the #UPA AviationScam, and “accessing mail” which revealed that lobbyist Deepak Talwar had bought air tickets for Congress leader Digvijaya Singh.
Last week, a “53 page chargesheet” of a “Pak hawala connection” during the UPA in which “a CBI fixer colluded with two CBI chiefs” appeared on Times Now and Republic (see what we mean about them?)’; Times Now and CNN News 18 had Breaking News on an Enforcement Directorate chargesheet of a Congress MLC which Times called a “jolt for Cong in poll season”. Zee News peeked into an NIA “internal report” on love jihad in Kerala and CNN News 18 into the Zakir Naik chargesheet which “lists anti-Hindu rants”.
These are just a few recent examples. Many more such reports and chargesheets have found their way onto news channels — although only a privileged few channels receive them. Surely, the CBI, ED and NIA should collectively launch a probe into how and why this is happening and then leak the findings to the very channels which have been carrying the “leaks”.
Equally interesting? DeMo is one issue that saw most Hindi and English channels debate in detail before the anniversary. That a government policy decision is actually discussed and often found wanting by experts — on ET Now, CNBC TV 18, Mirror Now, NDTV 24×7, CNN News 18, News X, etc — is very unusual but also very welcome.