While the Climate Conference was going on, what was Arnab covering?
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While the Climate Conference was going on, what was Arnab covering?

The Modi-Sharif meeting was apparently the highlight of the conference

By Arunabh Saikia

Published on :

On November 29, more than 150 heads of nation met in Paris at the 21st United Nations Conference of Parties to discuss climate change and ways to deal with it. It was a landmark event. Not just because it was one of the biggest ever congregations of world leaders, but more also because if we wish away climate change any longer, we will be doomed before we can say sorry. A UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report predicts a temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. According to experts, anything beyond a 2 degrees Celsius rise would be disastrous. Climate scientists believe that going by recent trends, it would be near impossible to restrict global warming to the 2 degrees Celsius mark. (2015 is all set to be the hottest year on record globally.)

The situation is particularly dire for India. As many as 500 million people in India depend on water from Himalayan glaciers – and even the slightest change in the conditions of these glaciers would lead to a catastrophe.  To cut a long story short: this is serious business and we should care about what’s happening in Paris.

One would expect something as important to occupy prime-time space on all news channels the next evening on November 30. But curiously, it didn’t.

Times Now’s highlight of the evening was an interview with Anil Vij, Haryana’s health minister. Vij has been in the news of late for allegedly misbehaving with a lady police officer and getting her transferred.

By now, we know Arnab Goswami is no ordinary news anchor. He is a crusader of the downtrodden. He speaks up for people without a voice, questions the establishment with ferocity, and detests the Lutyens’ cosy club with a passion. Basically, hell hath no fury like an Arnab Goswami scorned. In this one-on-one interview with Vij, Arnab did his usual thing: some good ol’ bullying disguised as fighting the underdog’s battle.

While from the video clip of the spat, it is difficult to ascertain who was at fault – the minister or the cop – Arnab had already made his mind up. The video has Vij questioning the lady officer on actions taken against the illicit alcohol trade. To which she replies that the police is doing its job, it has arrested people, but the problem is that many of the people arrested come out on bail. Vij doesn’t quite buy her argument and asserts that the illicit liquor trade is happening under the watch of the police. It is at this point that the argument becomes heated and Vij asks the officer to leave. Without a clear context, it’s not easy to take sides on this one. But Arnab did. As a result, a great opportunity to discuss the real problem – the sale of illicit alcohol — was lost. The interview turned out to be an example in how not to conduct a journalistic interview.

On NDTV in The Buck Stops Here, there was, well, a debate on intolerance. According to a moderate estimate, it was the 9876th debate on the subject on Indian TV news.  Don’t know about intolerance in the country but television viewers in India are clearly quite a tolerant lot. Trust Barkha Dutt to squeeze that last drop of juice of a lemon.

NewsX and India Today TV did come close but not quite. The climate conference only happened to be the venue of a 90-second meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi. It is unlikely Modi and Sharif made much foreign policy breakthrough in those 90 seconds – or, for that matter, even went beyond exchanging pleasantries – but, well, Modi is more TRPs than climate change any day. Never mind that the latter is one of the most pressing issues affecting the planet we inhabit.

But you’ve got to give credit when it is due – and CNN-IBN deserves a fair share of it. It was the only channel, which actually broke down what the talks were all about – and why climate change is so important. The channel, which has recently renewed its contract with CNN, seems to be doing most things right of late after a particularly turbulent phase last year. After a stellar show on the counting day of Bihar elections, the channel, with last night’s prime time, is in the middle of quite a purple patch.

Most English dailies, too, seemed to think the brief Modi-Sharif meeting was more important than the climate conference itself.  The lead front-page story in both The Indian Express and The Times of India was on the meeting. The two dailies also had identical punning headlines on “climate change”, referring to a possible change in dynamics between India and Pakistan following the two prime ministers’ exchange. The Express, though, did carry a detailed story on the highlights of the summit in the 16th page. The Hindustan Times’ front-page lead also focused on Modi and Sharif’s fleeting encounter.

Among the major English dailies, The Hindu was the only one whose first-page lead story was dedicated exclusively to the summit without any mention of Modi and Sharif.

In any case, if you missed out the little that the Indian media did cover, here are a few takeaways from the climate conference:

  1. While almost each of the participating countries acknowledged that there is a problem, there was very little consensus on individual responsibilities.
  2. Barrack Obama delivered one of the longest speeches (14 minutes) at the conference. Though his address (where he quoted Martin Luther King) recognised the urgency of things, the United States Senate has made it clear that it wouldn’t ratify an international treaty that would make the legal obliged to cut down on emissions.
  3. Many countries pledged considerable amounts of money towards the cause. The United Kingdom and Spain have promised funds to fight tropical deforestation. Modi also spoke about putting in large amounts of investments in the next few years to develop solar energy technologies.
  4. Smaller countries, which are highly susceptible owing to rising sea levels, called for more drastic measures. They exhorted developed and bigger countries to take more responsibility and sought to set the higher limit at 1.5 degrees Celsius as opposed to 2 degrees Celsius agreed upon by most developed and developing nations.
  5. Though critics have complained that not enough has come out of the conference, most observers agree that while much more could be done, important world leaders coming together in such a large number and talking about climate change is definitely a positive step ahead. But then, there is a long way to go before we can even think about breathing easy.

Also, please don’t believe Donald Trump. Not on climate change, at least.

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