In an for the New York Times in 2017, Ronald Steinman, the NBC bureau chief in Saigon in 1966, said that his role in the first televised war – the Vietnam war – was clear: “to supply NBC News with an endless story of the war”.
Fast forward to another war, and an “endless story”, on February 24, 2022. As Russia launched its military offensive against Ukraine, Indian news channels engaged in a battle for exclusivity – flashing words such as “exclusive”, “world exclusive”, “extreme exclusive”, “immersive coverage”, and “war breaking” on screens.
Republic thought all is fair in love and war and stamped the channel’s watermark over a video that a Twitter user had out.
Meanwhile, with the war impacting markets and oil prices, all leading English and Hindi newspapers carried the news about Ukraine as their front page lead stories. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has termed his offensive as a “special military operation”, none of the newspapers in India used the term.
Let’s look at the newspapers first.
The headline read “World shocked by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine”. A report on Indian students in Ukraine was also on the front page.
There were two editorials on the crisis. The first, by the newspaper’s editorial team, was headlined “Russia’s NATO problem”. “At the heart of his (Putin’s) fears is the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO and NATO troops potentially stationed at the border with Russia…But unless western nations give assurances to Mr Putin that NATO will not seek to relentlessly expand its footprint eastwards, Moscow will have little incentive to return to the negotiating table. But Russia and Mr Putin must realize that war is not the means to peace and security.”
The second editorial, by P S Raghavan, was titled “Shaking up Europe’s security architecture” which stressed on the manner in which NATO countries implement the promised harsh sanctions against Russia, as that would demonstrate whether, how much and for how long, this crisis would keep them united. It further added that “this crisis results from a broken security architecture in Europe”.
“Putin invades Ukraine” was the front page headline. A report about how the war has affected the stock market and oil prices, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call with Putin last night, were also on the front page. The report also included the list of sanctions promised by the West, and Putin and US President Joe Biden’s comments on the issue.
Hindustan Times had one op-ed on the crisis, titled “What India can learn from the Ukraine crisis”. C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, said Moscow’s decision is a rejection of the inviolability of national borders of Europe as agreed to in the Helsinki agreement of 1975 and a major challenge to global order.
“Contested territoriality is only one manifestation of the troubled India-China relationship and as India seeks to equip itself appropriately to deal with the emerging strategic flux engendered by Ukraine, the right lessons need to be internalized in relation to strategic communication and national security.”
Times of India
It delivered the front page headline with a pun: “Russian Roulette: Putin goes to war”. Other stories on the front page mentioned the absence of NATO plans to deploy troops in Ukraine, how bunkers were the only refuge for stranded Indian students, and Modi’s call to end violence by Russia.
Like the Hindu, TOI also had two editorials on the issue. The first was titled “Putin The World In Danger”, which said that despite diplomacy being undermined, it is precisely what needs to be actively pursued to prevent wider escalation. “The deepening distrust and mutual suspicion could have been resolved with intensive and sustained diplomacy. Western diplomacy started late: Nato suspended its regular talks with Russia because of Crimea, and presidents and prime ministers only started to go to Moscow after Russia flexed its military muscles. Inadvertently, Western leaders probably ended up sending the message that military threats could win Russia a seat at the table. But this hand has now been overplayed.”
The second editorial was titled “The Russia Effect” which was focused on how India would not escape the bleak diplomatic and economic implications of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
The Indian Express
The front page was dedicated to the “war”, with a six-column picture of the conflict on the top, and seven reports on the issue.
It had three editorial pieces inside. The first, called “The casualty in Ukraine”, focused on how the information war by Russia and the West has made it difficult for each side to understand the other. The aim, Brijesh Singh writes, is the creation of a multiplicity of narratives which fragment the understanding of the other side. “Whatever is read or heard about the crisis in Ukraine from any side, has to be taken with a pinch of salt, vetted with common sense and ascertained to be true, before it is passed on.”
The other two editorials were by the newspaper’s own editorial team. Titled “de-escalate”, one urged both sides to return to the negotiating table, while another, titled “crude threat”, spoke of the economical impact in the context of crude oil prices.
Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran
Dainik Bhaskar’s front page had a picture of a wounded civilian that was jarringly placed near the cheerful mascot for Kissan Tomato ketchup. Dainik Jagran dedicated the entire page to the conflict’s coverage, including a story on how Indians were roaming the streets hungry and thirsty in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, TV news channels were trying hard to prove to audiences that theirs was the leading coverage of the war.
Republic Bharat was among three news channels that had sent their reporters on the ground in Ukraine to report.
However, the word ‘exclusive’ was somehow lost on them as they put their watermark over a video that a Twitter user had out.
Again, in case viewers forgot, Republic had consistent reminders: that the channel was bringing “exclusive” news, was “in the warzone” and that “Republic cameras capture the war”.
India Today and Aaj Tak
If you thought that Republic was the only news channel in the warzone, think again, because India Today was the “only channel in real warzone”. The reporter for the channel was reporting from Donetsk, but those in the newsroom seemed like they did not want to miss out on the “real warzone” and so conjured up a tank right there.
The channel also had a reporter on the ground, declaring that their coverage was “extreme exclusive”, “super exclusive”, and “war breaking” news. A super exclusive choice by the channel was using visuals of rain over the sea as the backdrop for the live reportage.
Times Now brought its viewers “immersive coverage”, with less justification of that adjective. They did not have a reporter on the ground, and they had interviews with Indian students in Ukraine, and Ukrainian journalists like other channels.
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