Some people never learn. Or they simply refuse to. Take the case of West Bengal. Over the last two days, news channels such as Times Now, Republic TV, NDTV India, India Today, CNN News 18, Zee News have emphasised the violence, reportedly unleashed in the state by a triumphant Trinamool Congress, whose workers had, allegedly, killed at least nine people — BJP workers, according to the BJP and the news channels — and seen homes, offices burnt down. Trinamool has also claimed to have lost four of its men.
Prime time decided to press pause on the ‘Covid catastrophe’ (Mirror Now) and conduct equally violent clashes in studios, with the BJP and TMC breathing fire — just like the bad old days. “Brazen Vendetta”, CNN News 18 called it, blaming the TMC. “BJP slams Didi”, declared Times Now. “End this violence now,” the channel ordered. ‘Boom, Bandook Bengal’ went Zee News’ alliteration to express its disapproval.
And, suddenly, the all too familiar BJP faces of Sambit Patra, Amit Malviya were flushed with righteous indignation — why, they hadn’t been so red-faced after the ‘drubbing’ at the hands of the TMC Sunday (India Today).
Anchors were equally outraged — they criticised Mamata Banerjee and then reported how, in the words of India Today, ‘PM expresses anguish over violence in Bengal’, Tuesday.
We were also informed that ‘PM dials up Bengal governor’ (Republic TV) and that ‘J. P. Nadda announces national dharna’ (Times Now) — Wednesday, we saw the dharna even as ‘Didi Phir Didi’ was sworn in as the CM (Zee Hindustan).
Of course, violence must be condemned, those responsible must be held accountable — in this instance, the PM, BJP and news channels must be applauded for their prompt reactions on both counts. When Times Now interviewed Banerjee Wednesday after she took oath as CM for a third time, it asked her to appeal for peace in the state, it asked for her assurance.
What explains the corona silence?
But, have news channels held the political leaders accountable? Have they asked questions of Nadda, who travelled to Bengal in a jiffy, if he visited the hospitals with the same alacrity? And if he did, why have we not seen it on TV?
Come to think of it, have we seen any political leader, from any political party, other than a few Aam Aadmi Party ministers in Delhi, at hospitals or anywhere else in the pictures of misery across the country? Have they developed a sudden aversion to news channels?
Have we heard the PM or the BJP President — both of whom we saw almost daily on TV for the last five months— express ‘anguish’ over the deaths and devastation caused by the coronavirus – in hospitals, in ambulances, in three-wheelers, on the streets or in people’s homes?
Have they publicly expressed ‘anguish’ over the “national health emergency” (Mirror Now)? To the woman in Bahraich, seen in a video on Republic TV, who received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? To the person whose chest was thumped and thumped for signs of life by anguished relatives, in a Meerut hospital (CNN International)? Or to relatives of patients ‘gasping’ for oxygen insie a line of ambulances, outside an Ahmedabad hospital where the queue was longer than the eye could see? (India TV)
Have news channels run after Union Home Minister Amit Shah for interviews now, like they did after his election rath in Bengal? Remember, just weeks ago, they clambered aboard the chariot and Shah only too gladly entertained their questions?
Does the media have no questions for him today? And he any answers for the families of “people dying of no oxygen?’’ (NDTV 24×7).
Last winter, when Delhi saw a sudden surge in cases, Shah had intervened — news channels showed him hold meetings, issue orders, statements, take charge. Have you seen him on any TV news channel, let alone be asked questions?
For months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seen daily on television news, often live, either on the campaign trail or at virtual meetings for inaugurations, dedications, addresses to different stake-holders. Haven’t seen him much, recently. Has he no words of comfort for his 1.3 billion countrymen, crores of whom hang on his every word?
Why is there no address to the nation, telling us what his government is doing to ‘Help India Breathe’ again (Mirror Now)? What does the PM feel or have to say of the devastation around him? Doesn’t the nation deserve to know?
And where is Rahul Gandhi, the hand-dispenser of bad tidings and sage advice on social media? In the past, he has fielded questions at virtual press meetings — why doesn’t he hold a press conference each day?
Seriously, you have to wonder at the spin masters in charge of the media planning for the government or of the Congress. This is no time for silence, to go into hiding. This is time for ‘Mann ki Baat’— to share in the trauma of a nation in ICU where there are no beds, no oxygen and an exhausted medical staff.
Accountability is key
Also, it is not the time to either avoid the international media or to criticise it for presenting a one-sided picture — if you refuse to interact with it, the picture will be one-sided.
So why didn’t the government agree to have a spokesperson on CNN International when it ran a one-hour special ‘Connect the World’ with Becky Anderson Monday on ‘India’s Catastrophe’?
The anchor said she had invited the “ruling party” to participate in the programme but that it declined. She then took a brutal, hard look at the “worst outbreak” of the pandemic across the world which showed us “the enormity” of the tragedy – something we also have seen on Indian news channels, read about in the print media or experienced firsthand.
However, unlike Indian news channels, she was willing to say that the government had been “missing in action”. And, she asked questions of it – why had the “authorities” failed to explain the lack of oxygen?
She talked “accountability”— “Where is the government?’’ Anderson asked.
All this should not have gone unanswered by the government or the authorities for a simple reason: people start to believe, erroneously perhaps, that you have something to hide or worse, you don’t have an answer.
We know the government is working, is doing many things to push back this wave of infections. But it isn’t coming out into the open about allowing itself to be questioned — and the news channels aren’t chasing it down like they do the ambulances, or the violence in Bengal.