It’s been a heavy news weekend. On Saturday evening, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) raided a "rave party" on a cruise liner off the coast of Mumbai.
Quite predictably, major news channels jumped on the story proclaiming that a "drug cartel" had been busted. What the NCB actually was 13 grams of cocaine, 21 grams of charas, 22 pills of MDMA and 5 grams of MD — all categorised as “intermediate quantities”. The NCB arrested eight persons, including actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan, and all hell broke loose in many of our "national" TV news channels.
Meanwhile, at around 4 pm on Sunday, bloody images of violence, and injured protestors came out of Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh — it emerged soon that four farmers were killed after a convoy of three cars, one of which belonged to BJP leader and union minister of state Ajay Mishra Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra, had hit the protesting farmers. Violence escalated and visuals showed arson and vehicles on fire.
So far, the death toll has reached eight people, including a journalist and Bharatiya Janata Party workers.
A comparison of how some of our major news channels covered the two incidents is a testament to everything that’s wrong with TV news today — while anchors jumped to declare Aryan Khan guilty, they tiptoed around the daylight murderous violence at Lakhimpur Kheri. Needless to say, 13 grams of cocaine and Aryan Khan overpowered coverage of death and destruction in Uttar Pradesh.
The "drug bust" had Big Media deploy huge teams of reporters and resources at every location — the NCB office, Shah Rukh Khan’s residence Mannat and so on — to report on a loop. However, Lakhimpur Kheri was presumably too far off for channels to send their army of reporters to. There were virtually no ground reports or inputs coming in from the scene of death.
On multiple channels, not only was there a huge delay in breaking the news from Lakhimpur Kheri, but there was next to no ground reportage despite the network of stingers that most TV news channels have. There weren’t even agency reports from say an ANI or a PTI, which is usually quick to hit the spot.
Farmers < Aryan Khan
Times Now held two debate shows on The Newshour, one about the NCB raid and the other about the clashes in Lakhimpur. The anchor, Swati Joshi, opened the 12-minute long Lakhimpur debate by saying that “massive clashes had broken out between protesting farmers and the police,” in which “the farmers resorted to violence and arson as the police tried to control the situation.”
The news of eight casualties as a result of the incident did not find a mention in the opening monologue, but the anchor said: “Farmer netas claim that a few protesting farmers have been killed in the clashes.” This when news of four farmers having died had already broken on Twitter — a platform that often feeds many of Times Now’s primetime debates.
The anchor was soon pulled up for her remarks, by a representative of the farmer group Samyukt Kisan Morcha who pointed out that the clashes were not between “protesting farmers and the police” but the “BJP goons and its leader Ajay Mishra’s son had run over farmers with their cars.”
The other about the NCB raid, which was 25-minutes long, was titled: “NCB arrests SRK’s son Aryan in drugs case; will Bollywood nexus be out?”.
If it isn’t clear by the title already, the Sushant Singh Rajput case was regurgitated for good measure.
While there was no ground report from Lakhimpur, Times Now reporters were present outside the NCB headquarters in Mumbai, following vehicles that ferried the "culprits" and were breaking "exclusive" developments every other hour — from the quantity of drugs recovered to accessing Aryan Khan’s arrest memo and predicting his jail term.
Throughout Sunday, Arnab Goswami’s Republic World managed to completely black out the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, with not a single report, update or debate on it.
For the NCB drug case, however, it gave updates from the ground, even sending a reporter to stand outside Shah Rukh Khan’s Mumbai residence, Mannat. The reporter ironically showed how fans had lined up outside his house.
“We also saw two cars coming out of Mannat and in one of those cars, we were told, Gauri Khan was there,” said one reporter, adding that she was initially supposed to head to the NCB office but she did not go there, because “probably she and Shah Rukh Khan are roping in and meeting a lot of lawyers.” What would we do without such insights?
Republic World finally on the Lakhimpur case this morning. The news peg was mostly focused on the detention of politicians Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Akhilesh Yadav, with the anchor saying that the “UP government has made it very clear that it will not allow politicians to take mileage out of the unfortunate incident.”
All questions, of course, were reserved for opposition party leaders travelling to Lakhimpur — this was a case of “political tourism”, thundered an anchor. The channel also focused on how more farmers and political leaders travelling to the site would become a security threat, commending the Uttar Pradesh police for taking “total control of the situation” in Lakhimpur district.
Over at , a voiceover on Chitra Tripathi’s show said: “It is clear that in the middle of the farmer protest, peaceful Uttar Pradesh has been disturbed by the Lakhimpur incident and more chaos is yet to come.” Visuals of the violence and injured protestors flashed on screen. The anchor referred to the incident as “bada bawal” or “huge chaos”, resorting to cliches about "politics being played" . Most segments on Lakhimpur, were focused on Opposition parties, allegations from both sides and an interview with Union Minister Ajay Mishra defending his son, and calling the protesters “anarchists”. The channel made repeated references about how promptly the Yogi Adityanath government had sent the Additional Director General of Police to the spot and deployed heavy security to control the law and order situation.
Apart from countless bulletins on the "drug bust" , Tripathi’s 43-minute long debate show , was titled: “How did the son of a superstar become a criminal?”.
“There is one question in everyone’s mind,” she declared, “Will Aryan Khan go to jail or get out on bail?”. The panel included experts like a fashion designer, an actor, a BJP representative, a political analyst and mercifully the former DCP of Delhi. She hosted yet another 40-minute debate titled: “Badshah ka Beta Villain? ” (Or King’s son is a villain?)
, decided to cover the Lakhimpur violence on its pre-election bulletin titled “Abki Baar Kiski Sarkar”.
The channel flashed images of burning cars, adding that they belonged to union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra. Note that images of bloodied protestors did not make it to the TV screen even once. “The smoke belching out of these burning vehicles is testament to how the farmers expressed their anger today. Both the cars belonging to the union minister’s son were set ablaze by the farmers.”
The anchor went on to say that political parties became “active” immediately because the issue involved a BJP minister’s son and farmer. “The way these Opposition leaders raised questions against the BJP, it is evident that the Lakhimpur incident can become a huge election issue in Uttar Pradesh.”
The channel’s coverage of the NCB case, meanwhile, included similar wall-to-wall coverage , including multiple ground reports, with almost every headline including “Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan”. A debate including legal experts and former NCB officials as panelists, was titled, “Shah Rukh Khan ka beta fasega ya bachega?”, meaning “Will Shah Rukh Khan’s son be caught or saved?”. The debate tried to determine, based on the quantities of drugs recovered, whether there is a network of “drug peddlers” involved and if Aryan Khan would be released.
Damn those farmers (and Opposition)
Over at India, updates on the NCB case ran throughout the day, with headlines like “Beech samundar, drugs ka bawandar” (a cyclone of drugs in the middle of the sea). Another headline that kept flashing was: “Nashe ke samundar mein abhineta ka beta” (son of an actor in the sea of intoxication).
The channel had four reporters on the ground in Mumbai, reporting from different locations, one of which included a beachfront. All of the reporters narrated at least once, the Sushant Singh Rajput case and how Bollywood has often been involved in the consumption of drugs.
The channel's coverage of the Lakhimpur violence throughout Sunday, included only a couple of two to three-minute long bulletins, in which the anchors categorically termed the incident as “Kisanon ka hungama” or “Ruckus” by farmers. “News is coming from UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri where farmers have created a full-blown ruckus, and are facing allegations of vandalism and arson,” adding that this ruckus happened after a “mishap involving an out-of-control” car.
On Zee News, which featured extensive coverage of the NCB case as well, there were just three bulletins on the Lakhimpur incident, one of which was , “Why did farmers create chaos in Lakhimpur?”
Without making a note of the dead protestors, the anchor wondered: “What was it that happened that forced the farmers to burn two vehicles belonging to the union minister’s son?” The other two segments were focused on UP chief minister Adityanath organising a “high-level” meeting about the incident and Opposition leaders leaving for the site of the violence.
On the Lakhimpur incident, all of these channels aired clarifications from the union minister Ajay Mishra and his son, using these clarifications to counter-question farmer leaders about who incited the clashes. All these channels also aired “exclusive” one-on-one interviews with NCB chief SN Pradhan, who gave out similar information on the ‘drug bust’. Safe to say that the sarkari version prevailed. The victims of violence at Lakhimpur, both farmers and BJP workers, remain faceless, at least on major TV news channels.
The death toll, according to the police, is eight so far; this has been updated in the copy.