What TV news missed about India while covering Afghanistan

Watching primetime TV, you might think nothing newsworthy happened in India over the past couple of weeks. You’d be wrong.

BySidharth Singh
What TV news missed about India while covering Afghanistan
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Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan 19 days ago on August 15, TV media’s primetime anchors have run well over a hundred debates on Afghanistan, Pakistan, simply alleging that the opposition supports the Taliban, or some combination of the three.

On News18’s “Aar Paar”, Amish Devgan continues to host successive debates with titles such as “Taliban Par Vipaksh Ka Mauka-Mauka!” and “Talibani Virus Ke Kitney Pairokar? Dekhiye Aar Paar”. At Times Now, Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar have cumulatively conducted at least 24 debates about Afghanistan since August 15. The number stands at 12 for Arnab Goswami.

As of September 1, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Arnab Goswami, Amish Devgan, and Anjana Om Kashyap from Aaj Tak and Sudhir Chaudhary from Zee have cumulatively hosted at least 67 debates about Afghanistan. This does not include several other anchors at these channels who were also consistently hosting debates about Kabul and Afghanistan. If you include them, the number is above 100.

All anchors debated at least one or two other issues during this time. These topics included Narayan Rane’s arrest, post poll violence in West Bengal, and JNU’s inclusion of a course on counter terrorism which has a component on jihad.

Watching primetime TV, one might assume that nothing newsworthy was happening in India over the past two and a half weeks. This, of course, is untrue. A number of national news events went unaddressed by the aforementioned foremost faces of primetime in India, as the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan was abused for TRPs.

The death of over 50 people – many of whom were children – in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad and other districts due to what was earlier reported to be a “mystery illness”, and later confirmed as dengue, was found unworthy of primetime attention. These cases were reported over the last week and are still gripping the state, but received no mention by Goswami, Shivshankar, Kumar, Devgan or the rest.

The lathi charge on August 28 by the Haryana police on farmers in Karnal protesting against a BJP meeting, in which several farmers were left injured, was not discussed by our primetime elite. One of the injured protesters later died of a heart attack, though the police has denied that the death was caused by injury.

The last two weeks have also witnessed developments in rape cases which gathered national attention but remained absent from discussions on primetime TV. On August 17, a woman who had accused BSP’s Atul Rai of rape self-immolated in front of the Supreme Court along with a man. By August 25, the duo had died of their injuries.

On August 26, a medical student in Mysuru was gangraped by a group of men. Six men have been arrested in the incident so far and the investigation is ongoing.

These incidents were not discussed either.

Furthermore, the status quo of complete disinterest about environmental issues – action-packed visuals of landslides and cloudbursts are perhaps the exception – on primetime TV was maintained. Days after prime minister Modi’s mention of the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm during his Independence Day speech, the union cabinet cleared Rs 11,040 crore for a push in palm oil plantation in the Northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

According to a report by the Indian Express, the clearance came despite the dissent of leading forest research institutes such as the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, given the consensus that palm oil plantations lead to a massive loss of biodiversity and forests.

With the titanic digital presence maintained by corporate media houses, thousands of clips are uploaded to social media by Republic, Times Now, Aaj Tak and News18. Perhaps nestled within the deluge of discussions about Afghanistan, one will find somewhere a clip of a reporter covering dengue cases in Firozabad, or some pointed discussion even about the farmer protests.

But a simple scroll through any of their debate videos will evidence their interest in Afghanistan, which might soon give way to Sidharth Shukla as he proliferates through their social media. For the time being, when it comes to our primetime elite, where the eyeballs will go, the “news” will be in close pursuit.

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