A total of 260 people have died of swine flu in Gujarat this year. Although print media has reported this, the coverage has been subdued on national TV channels. Where are the talk shows? Where are the hashtags? Let us compare this with the coverage of the dengue outbreak in Delhi last year. The Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare disclosed in response to a Rajya Sabha question last month that there were a total of 245 dengue-related deaths across the country in 2016. Out of these, 10 were in Delhi. During the same period, 17 deaths were also reported due to Chikungunya. There was an extensive coverage of the cases in Delhi and a race among the TV channels to question the Delhi government and hold it to account for its failure to control the outbreak.
Each year, the dengue fever grips the country. The number of deaths is unacceptable and reveals a lack of preparedness of the government. It is important that media covers it and outrages about it, putting pressure on the government for better prevention and control of the disease. The same holds for swine flu which is deadlier and highly contagious.
Mortality rate in Gujarat from swine flu is the highest in the country. As reported by Times of India, at the time other affected states were planning steps to control the spread of the virus and be better prepared for monsoon, the mortality rate in Gujarat was already 24% and 10 persons had died. “But the state government showed no interest in starting intensive awareness drives. That lapse made the deadly H1N1 virus spread. Now 260 people have died in Gujarat and thousands are infected“. Earlier this month, media reported about the local health administration distributing ‘Ukala’, a local ayurvedic preparation considered to be a preventive and immunity boosting medicine against the H1N1 virus.
Let us look at how the 2016 Delhi dengue outbreak and the 2017 Gujarat swine flu outbreak were covered by major TV channels.
The Times Now coverage of the 2016 Delhi dengue outbreak was extensive. With hashtags like #AAPDontCare, #AAPKaSatya, #AAPKahanHai and #AAPHaiAbroad it held the Aam Admi Party government to account while largely overlooking the role of BJP run Municipal Corporation of Delhi. It accused AAP of downplaying the cases, shirking responsibility and questioned the absence of the health minister at the time of the outbreak. Although 10 out of the 245 dengue-related deaths were in Delhi, the focus of the coverage was Delhi. Similar questions were not asked of any other state government and similar hashtags were not run for anyone else.
Times Now did not post a single tweet on the swine flu deaths in Gujarat.
Republic TV was not launched at the time of the 2016 dengue outbreak. It had no tweets on the 260 swine flu deaths of Gujarat at the time of writing this story.
In Sept 2016 at the peak of the Delhi dengue outbreak the channel had 20+ tweets on the topic. Form impact on tourism to advice on recognizing symptoms and tips to beat the disease, all aspects were extensively covered. The program ‘Taal Thok Ke’ featured a panel discussion on government’s irresponsible attitude.
Zee News did not totally ignore the Gujarat swine flu deaths like Times Now. It posted one tweet on it.
It had earlier covered the rising swine flu toll across the country and tweeted about symptoms and prevention.
India Today also had an extensive coverage of dengue cases in Delhi. It kept a count of the rising number of cases and also posted a video on the ground reality on the preparedness against dengue which included the BJP run MCD.
CNN News18 had an extensive coverage of dengue outbreak in Delhi. The channel that does not run hashtags to the extent of the others like Republic and Times Now, had one which asked #WhereIsDelhiCM.
CNN New18 had two tweets on the swine flu deaths in Gujarat.
NDTV’s coverage of dengue was extensive. It was similar to CNN News18 in being largely fact-based reporting of the outbreak that gripped the capital.
NDTV also had only one tweet reporting the swine flu deaths of Gujarat.
We see a sharp contrast between the attention given by the media to dengue outbreak in Delhi as compared to the deadly swine flu outbreak in Gujarat. There is clearly a story out there with the extremely high mortality rate for swine flu in Gujarat and the possibility of lapses by the state government in controlling the outbreak. Whilst some channels completely ignored the Gujarat swine flu deaths, others only had one or two tweets on the topic. We did not see any panel discussions, hashtags and the usual outrage once the news of Gujarat deaths broke out. We have seen time and again that incidents in Delhi become a focus of national attention and other parts of the country largely go unnoticed. Though to some extent this can be explained because of Delhi being the national capital, there is a clear hesitation among some sections of the media when it comes to questioning the state government in BJP run states.