- NL Sena
Aggressive hashtags and spittle-flying anchors go about business with Pakistani intrusions or LoC ceasefire violations but all go meek when it comes to Chinese incursions.
Indian TV channels are known to go into an overheated frenzy each time there is a border issue with Pakistan. However, provocative statements like, “The Indian military can choose to return to its territory with dignity, or be kicked out of the area by Chinese soldiers,” by the Chinese State media, which has been at its chauvinistic best in response to the recent flare-up in tension between India and China, got little response from the Indian media. The border standoff started over India’s objection to a Chinese road construction through Doklam plateau and soon escalated with China destroying two Indian Army bunkers and stopping sections of the Mansarovar yatra. Let us see if their coverage of the Chinese aggression matches up to the jingoism, they have displayed in the past when reporting instances of trouble with our neighbours.
Even though it has faced some recent competition from Republic, Times Now is known to take the pole position when it comes to jingoism. It did the same for this conflict and through its ‘Exclusive’, ‘Super Exclusive’ and ‘Mega Exclusive’ programmes, it kept its viewers updated on the situation at the border. But how does this compare to the attention that the channel normally gives to Pakistan?
Among other things, Times Now is also known for its unique hashtags. In the month of June alone, Times Now ran 15+ hashtags focused on Pakistan ranging from mildly offensive to outright incendiary. While many like #BoycottPakMatch, #PakHateWicket and #PakCricketPeaceSham were linked to the Champion’s trophy cricket match, others like #SharifArmyPuppet , #NaMoSnubSharif #TimesNowExposesSharif , mocked the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The hashtag, #PakArmyExposed was focused on the Pakistan army, others like #PakHitHinduPlot #PakTerrorRegiment, #PakTerrorState on the terror link. And then there were #PakDalalsRaided, #JailPakDalals, #PakDalalTwist. And finally, there those that stated that Pakistan was trumped (#PakTrumpedByNaMo) and unnerved by PM Modi (#ModiUnnervesPak).
After witnessing this hashtag attack on Pakistan, one would expect Times Now to give a befitting reply to the border transgressions by China. It is not an ordinary situation as commentators regard the latest development as one of the most serious escalations in recent years.
In sharp contrast to its Pakistan coverage, Times Now ran only one hashtag. Yes, only one and that too a rather insipid one called #ChinaChecked. The sole featured hashtag was clearly missing the rabble-rousing features that are characteristic of Times Now hashtags.
In a Super Exclusive show, the narrative was built to show an Indian upper hand with #ChinaChecked. “”Hear’’ how Indian braves hold their ground to stop the Chinese from crossing the Line, tweeted Times Now with an excerpt from its show. It is important to note that the #ChinaIntrusionVideo of the Indian and Chinese troops jostling with each other was an undated one. The same was played a week earlier with the disclaimer, “Times Now doesn’t vouch for the authenticity of the video.”
The undated video, whose authenticity the channel couldn’t vouch for, was enough for it to launch an attack. Hold your breath, it was an attack not on the Chinese but on the Indian liberals. The online text claimed, “They (the army) ordered China to get out. We showed you the video. This is for India’s army baiters. Partha, Azam, Dikshit, watch. Look how wrong you are. Time to apologise to the army?” In the hyper-nationalist world of Times Now, there must be a connection between troops jostling on the border and a few citizens apologising to the army. All this while, we are witnessing a serious escalation on the border.
In the world of Times Now, it was the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which put Beijing in its place. The channel tweeted, “In a major embarrassment for China, Bhutan put Beijing in its place by calling out its trespassing bluff.”
For the rest of Times Now, the coverage of the India-China border escalation was all about building the hype around the army with tweets like: Look how our braves fight China. Untold story of our soldiers. Indian troops won’t take a step back, India salutes our soldiers’ ultimate bravery.
Republic TV’s coverage of Chinese aggression was a far cry from its coverage of Pakistan. Remember the hashtags like #RepublicStingsISI #RepublicExposesPak #NawazSaudiSnub #ModiGetsPakTrumped #PakDownOnKnees? At the time of the June 15 ceasefire violation by Pakistan, defence analysts and panelists on the channel minced no words: Maj. Gaurav Arya (Retd.): ‘We need to answer them back very strongly, that is the only language Pakistan understands’; Defence expert RSN Singh: ‘These attacks clearly show that Pakistan is under some serious pressure’; Lt. Gen. P Khanna (Retd.) on the ceasefire violations: ‘The Indian Army needs to escalate, Pakistan will only understand then’. Surprisingly no videos of the defence experts were uploaded in the case of Chinese transgression.
There was none of the usual showmanship when it came to China. Republic did not sting or expose China. It didn’t bring it down to its knees. Instead, there were sober hashtags like #IndiaChinaStandOff and #IndiaChinaBorderFaceoff describing the actual situation without the usual hype.
Reporting from “ground zero”, India Today had extensive coverage of the border standoff. With Gaurav Sawant in Nathu La pass, Anant Krishnan in Beijing and Geeta Mohan in Bhutan, the news channel put out 20+ videos on its website. Shiv Aroor, Rahul Kanwal, Rajdeep Sardesai…the India Today team was out in full force to cover what it called the sharpest escalation since 1962.
The team continued with its own assessment of the situation. The burning question in a show by Gaurav Sawant was if China is rattled by US-India-Japan friendship. In a ground report, the same images of troops jostling that were also shared by Times Now were seen. “Can India stare down the dragon“, asked the news channel as it analysed military balance between the two countries.
No review of nationalist media can be complete without taking Zee News into account. The channel leads from the front in all matters related to national pride. It had taken the stance of ‘national interest over cricket’ and boycotted the India-Pakistan cricket match at the Champions’ Trophy. From videos with an emotional appeal to boycott the match to all its anchors promoting #SabSeBadaDroh hashtag, Zee played the role of custodian of the national interest. The Twitter timeline of the news channel and its vocal anchors have been surprisingly quiet about the recent border standoff.
With no videos posted and no hashtags promoted, Zee’s coverage of the conflict is a quiet affair, lacking the usual bells and whistles we see when Pakistan is involved. Last year in October, Zee ran a special show on the Chuna post, the last post on the China border where Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary had travelled to the post for what he called “daring reporting”. The viewers missed this daring reporting at a time of real crisis at the border.
Zee brought us Indian Army’s clarification that “that no bulldozers were used when its bunkers were destroyed by the Chinese army amid the current standoff with China in the Sikkim sector and a denial that the border standoff with China is the longest ever since 1962”. Apart from routine reports on the stand-off, we were also entertained by trivia that Aamir Khan’s Dangal continues to earn big bucks in China and world’s first panda-shaped solar farm built in China.
In contrast to the ground coverage of India Today, CNN News 18 focused on analysis, interviews and talk shows. From explaining how the situation unfolded, to reality check of relative military might, the jingoism seen in the nationalist channels was clearly missing here. Unlike the others, there is little to comment when it comes to contrasting the coverage the news channel gives to Pakistan.
In the case of NDTV too, it was ‘matter of fact’ coverage with little jingoism. While no aspect of the recent escalation was missed out, the Twitter handle of the news channel continued to share unrelated trivia from China. “Shoppers can now nap at this furniture store in China, no questions asked” and “12-year-old steals bus, goes on 40-minute joy ride” were two off-beat stories from China when everyone else was busy with the border standoff. This gave the impression of downplaying the situation.
Perhaps the most important part of the understated coverage of NDTV is that it debunked many of the speculations and exaggerations shared by the other channels, including the video of jostling at the border by stating the official position of the Indian Army: “Chinese troops did not use bulldozers to destroy Indian bunkers in Sikkim last month, the Indian Army has said, also denying reports that soldiers from the two sides engaged in a scuffle at the border amid a face-off. The Army has also denied that the current tension at the border is the longest standoff between the two countries since the 1962 war. Navy officials have, meanwhile, said that the presence of a Chinese submarine in the Indian Ocean region has nothing to do with the border tension.”
The author can be contacted on Twitter @samjawed65.