Nine children were killed and 24 injured when a speeding vehicle slammed into a school at Muzaffarpur in Bihar on February 24. This shocking incident was the main talking point for political parties, as the accused is alleged to be a BJP worker.
Alt News looked at the coverage by television news channels and newspapers for English and Hindi to see whether the issue made it to the prime-time slot and the front page. We looked at the prime-time coverage for February 24 and February 25. For newspapers, we looked at the Sunday edition i.e. February 25, a day after the incident. Here is what we found.
TV NEWS CHANNELS
For Times Now, the news of the nine slain children was not as important as Mani Shankar Aiyar. The favourite punching bag of mainstream TV news channels was once again on air on Saturday, the day the tragedy occurred.
#AiyarSecretMeetTape was the hashtag for the show by senior anchor Rahul Shivshankar at 8 pm. The other topic was on the recent bank scam. On Sunday, i.e. February 25, a day after the incident, the channel focused on Sridevi. The channel however did cover the news even though it may not have made it to the prime-time slot. The focus on the story did not wane the day after and in fact picked up momentum.
For Republic TV, the most important story on February 24 was singer Papon who landed in controversy after a video of him kissing a minor was broadcast. #ArrestPapon was the hashtag for the channel, which also went on to conduct a Twitter poll on the same with the question: Should ‘pervert’ Papon be arrested?
Republic TV on February 26, i.e. two days after the incident, reported on the FIR filed against accused BJP leader Manoj Baitha and kept the heat on him.
India Today did report the story as and when it happened on the 24th, and the channel presented a ground report from Muzaffarpur that detailed the incident.
For the prime-time slot on February 24 and February 25, the channel focused on the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan and Sridevi, respectively. Anchor Gaurav Sawant on his show #IndiaFirst conducted a debate on India-Pakistan relations with the question: ‘Is it time for India to cut off all sports, cultural connections with Pakistan?’
NDTV reported the news on the day the incident occurred. The channel kept up its coverage and came out with a series of reports on the tragedy. Overall, the news was given a degree of prominence.
CNN News18 did a ground report on the story, wherein its reporter spoke to the families of the slain children. The channel also made it a talking point in its prime-time slot with the 10 pm slot on February 26, targeting the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government.
Newspapers were no different when it came to determining the degree of prominence to be given to this news. We looked at the front pages of leading newspapers (Delhi edition) and here is what we found:
The Times of India
On February 25, The Times of India on its front page made no mention of this news.
The report was hidden in the inner pages of the daily. On Page 10, the story was mentioned in a tiny column. There was no reference to the accused being a BJP leader.
The report was the top-most story for Hindustan Times, which covered it prominently on its front page in its February 25 edition. It did not, however, mention the accused’s link with the BJP.
The Indian Express
The Indian Express, which is known to give attention to human interest stories, too failed to print the news on its front page of Sunday Express.
Instead, in a manner similar to The Times of India, the newspaper published the report on Page 9. However, it gave more importance to the story than ToI did, giving it more space although there was no reference to the political links of the accused.
Daily News and Analysis (DNA), another prominent English language daily, carried the news on the front page in the bottom right corner on February 25.
TV NEWS CHANNELS
Zee News reported the news from Muzaffarpur on February 24. It reported “BJP leader’s car hits crowd in Bihar, 9 children killed, many injured”.
The focus of prime-time though was on other stories. Anchor Sudhir Chaudhary discussed how private hospitals fleece patients.
On Sunday, i.e February 25, Sridevi was expectedly in the prime-time show. The channel also discussed the Sangh Parivar’s plans to help PM Modi emerge victorious in 2019.
Another popular channel Aaj Tak focused on the tussle in Delhi between the state government and the Centre on the day the tragedy occurred.
The next day, on February 25, the channel presented a ground report from Muzaffarpur on the tragedy.
India TV, the Rajat Sharma-owned channel, broke the news from Muzaffarpur in the afternoon of February 24, soon after the incident. Apart from this, there was very little coverage of it on the channel.
For prime-time, the channel broadcasted reports on Nirav Modi and Virat Kohli. The next day’s coverage was dedicated to Sridevi.
One of the most widely read Hindi dailies, Dainik Jagran in its Sunday edition on February 25 had Nirav Modi as its lead story. The report was about how the government is acting tough and a chargesheet is soon to be filed in a month. There was no mention of Muzaffarpur and the slain school children on the front page.
Amar Ujala, a widely read newspaper, did justice to the tragic news from Bihar and carried it on the front page.
Hindustan carried the story on the front page right at the top, in its edition of February 25.
Navbharat Times, which is owned by the Times of India Group, did not feature the news on the front page. Instead, it carried it on page 3, albeit in a tiny column as a snippet under the ‘Fast News’ section.
While TV news channels did report the story from Muzaffarpur as and when it occurred, and some channels also did ground reports, the prime-time slots on the weekend were dedicated to other stories, with Sridevi dominating viewer space.
The story received more coverage from February 26, two days later. Moreover, we found that as news of the accused’s political links became clear, all news channels mentioned this aspect, whereas in the case of newspapers on February 25 i.e. a day after the incident, this reference was missing.
In so far as newspapers are concerned, some gave the tragedy diminutive importance while others featured it prominently.