- NL Sena
Jitender Chauhan heckled and shamed Anish Singhal, saying he was pretending to be a doctor to cross a police barricade.
If you open the website of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation, you are greeted with the rich history of an organisation that is as old as the republic. The statutory body came into existence under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment on February 24, 1952, four years after the parliament passed the Employees’ State Insurance Act. Its first honorary beneficiary was no less than India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. “The declaration form bearing his signature is a prized possession of the corporation,” the ESIC declares on its website.
Today, the ESIC provides social security and medical services to around 3.5 crore workers across India. It boasts of a network of 45 hospitals that provides daily services to thousands of people, most of them from lower socioeconomic strata of society.
Yet, on Tuesday, during a lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic, the ESIC’s celebrated record meant nothing in the national capital. Republic TV reporter Jitender Chauhan, driven more by sensationalism than sensibility, tried to shame a senior doctor at the corporation by questioning his credentials. Worse, the ESIC was denounced on air as just an ordinary insurance provider.
Anish Singhal, medical superintendent of the ESIC’s 300-bedded hospital in Noida, was on his way to work. Having been stopped by the police for an identity check on the Delhi-Noida-Delhi flyway, Singhal had come out of his car and was speaking with the officials on duty. Just then, Chauhan, who was standing nearby, jumped into the scene, stuck out his mic and attempted to corner the doctor.
The reporter was looking for violators of the lockdown. Starting Tuesday morning, almost all states had imposed curfew-like restrictions to halt the spread of the virus. In the evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the lockdown to the entire country for 21 days.
Guidelines released by the central and state governments allow only “essential services” personnel to leave their homes. This naturally includes doctors and other healthcare workers, as well as journalists. But Chauhan, true to his TV channel’s trademark style, didn’t bother verifying if Singhal was an essential services personnel. He seemed to have made up his mind that he wasn’t.
“We are joining from the DND flyover in Delhi. And here, we have seen that some people are not cooperating with the police,” he said. Pointing to Singhal, he added, “This one is repeatedly arguing with the police.”
Chauhan started his report speaking into the camera and then walked over to Singhal.
The Republic TV reporter, putting on an air of authority, demanded to see Singhal’s identity card. The doctor, who was making a call, hung up and said he had already identified himself as a doctor several times. Unconvinced, Chauhan decided to pursue his “investigation”.
While Singhal was talking to the police, Chauhan walked around him like a noisy bee. All this while, the declaration “A man shows a fake ID card and tries to venture out”, kept flashing on the channel’s screen. A little later, Chauhan, his excitement peaking, got hold of the ID card to verify its “authenticity”.
“He is only arguing, not cooperating at all. Let us also see what card this is,” he said, referring to Singhal. “This card is of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation. This is not a doctor’s ID card. This is an insurance company’s card.”
It goes without saying that Chauhan had no clue that the ESIC was one of India’s largest healthcare providers. And for a channel like Republic TV, known for constant exaggeration to feed its hunger for viewership, perhaps this ill-informed, undertrained reporter will not raise much of an alarm. But the stunt concerned a doctor, duty-bound and on the frontlines of a public health emergency. A few minutes of on-air slander could surely dampen morale, not only his but of other personnel engaged in this battle.
The ESIC sensed the risk and came out with a statement on Tuesday evening. Apart from clarifying Singhal’s role in the organisation, it made an appeal to the media, “ESIC requests their cooperation and forbearance in this testing time to ensure that the personnel working in emergency services are not interrupted or inconvenienced in the performance of their duties.”
For its misreporting, Republic TV is yet to issue a statement, let alone an apology. Newslaundry wrote to the channel seeking its responses to the following questions:
1) Has Republic TV taken any action against Jitender Chauhan for reporting such false and defamatory information on air? If yes, please provide details.
2) Has Republic TV rendered an apology, either verbal or written, to Dr Singhal and the ESIC for tarnishing their reputation?
3) On Sunday, Republic TV, like most other channels, welcomed the janta curfew and constantly urged the people to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of our doctors and healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. On yesterday’s misreporting by Chauhan about a doctor, what is the response from the editorial team at your channel?
The story will be updated if a response is received.
Singhal’s experience, however, is not rare. Over the past two days, accounts have emerged of being abused and beaten up while on duty. Similarly, there have been reports of attacks on people delivering groceries and medicines.
It’s only three days since the country cheered all those involved in the delivery of “essential services” in this unprecedented crisis. As part of Sunday’s janta curfew – a self-imposed public curfew between 7 am and 9 pm – people came out on their balconies, at their windows and on their terraces to clap and clang utensils as a mark of appreciation for healthcare workers and others battling against COVID-19.
Republic TV, like several other channels, extensively covered the festive spirit in the country. On a live stream, its editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami, proudly showed two videos showing a ragpicker and a construction worker participating in the gesture. He was joined by actors Anupam Kher and Varun Dhawan on the show.
In another clip, broadcast the same day, Goswami showed visuals from housing societies where the cheering reached a crescendo. Cutting through the noise, he jubilantly said, “The people of India have come out today to support all those in the medical stores. And viewers hear this loud, the people in that housing society have come out and said that we are grateful for those who are in our hospitals. And we are grateful to those who are going to fight with us.”
Indeed, on Sunday, Goswami and his team were more than grateful to the thousands of faceless medical personnel. The broadcast was labelled, “lauding real heroes”. Yet, just three days later, his reporter seemed to have forgotten the message. In a rush to prove his predetermined narrative of lockdown violators, he accused a doctor of falsifying his identity.
Goswami was thankful to doctors for putting in extra hours at hospitals. His reporter preferred to delay one in reaching his hospital on time.
It could not be ascertained if the doctor intends to take legal action against Chauhan. But at a time when doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are struggling to perform their duties, such vigilantism defuses their spirit. And of all people, journalists, meant to disseminate correct information and create public awareness, should certainly refrain from indulging in it. Such actions do not bode well for the country, especially when it is headed for a long lockdown given the rapid spread of the virus.