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It’s a Tough Draw

In which the football World Cup threatens to eclipse the biggest stories but is thwarted by the ISIS crisis

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: June 21, 2014 12:29:25 am

Man fell off chair in Hazaribagh Jail and ABP News couldn’t stop going on about it. That was last week. This week, Arun Jaitley gives lessons in PR to the government’s talking heads and it gets only a minute on News Nation. All right, the man in Hazaribagh was Yashwant Sinha, and he had fallen shortly after it became clear that he would head the BJP’s push for the Bihar Assembly. But this week, the story of his sudden upset would have vanished without a trace, eclipsed by the fall of Spain. The football mania is so bad that even I, who have a tenuous grasp on the sport and vaguely want West Africa to show up nicely, have been offered inducements by a friend to proclaim support for Argentina instead. Only to pressure his wife, who favours Brazil.

After football, there was so little headroom left that only the biggest stories seemed to register. And ISIS was at hand to provide one. What is it about the NDA that whenever it assumes office, there is a hostage crisis involving Indians in a Muslim-majority nation, with aircraft involved somehow? Let’s hope, for the sake of the 40 Indians who went off the radar in Iraq, and their anxious families, that the government will be more successful with a Mosul airlift than it was in Kandahar.

Speaking of the families, some of the electronic media appear to be trying to reduce duplication of effort. For instance, Zee News and IBN7 had the same interviews of the families of missing Indians. That’s clever, since the affected families are spread halfway across north India, from Punjab to eastern UP. Besides, it’s kinder to the families, which are having a mike thrust into their faces and asked inane questions only once. At the same time, it comes after an election which institutionalised the practice of TV channels using campaign trail footage supplied by the parties themselves. It feels a bit like the Murdoch model, sharing news feeds across outlets.

The English media has this vague suspicion that exclusively Hindi channels are unquestioningly pro-Modi, but they are watching the prime minister pretty closely. Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee TV explicitly referred to the Mosul incident as “the first challenge faced by the Modi government”. India TV had a slogan for it: “Modi’s first CrISIS.” A talk show on IBN7 looked at the first cause of migrant crises: forced economic migration for lack of opportunity at home. Former diplomats explained why it is hard for migrant workers to up stakes and return, because they incur travel loans which must be paid back. G Parthasarathy spoke of Indian students who had been lured to Australia for an education, plus a fictitious “green card”.

Interestingly, state-backed media are turning out to be surprisingly critical of government. The Big Picture on Rajya Sabha TV, has taken a rather hard look at the controversy over the Intelligence Bureau report that certain NGOs pose a threat to economic security. Girish Nikam, the host, focussed on the specifics. Are such IB reports routine? Does the organisation have the economic and scientific expertise to gauge the damage? On what specific ground was a specific NGO’s right to accept foreign donations suspended?

It turned out that the right had been restored by a court order. And that, on the programme, it was not the NGOs or the media but former IB director DC Pathak who was in the dock. He handled it rather well, but he was obviously less comfortable than the people that his former organisation had reported against.

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