New Delhi: On the day farmer protests raged across the country over the three agriculture Bills passed by parliament, most national news channels gave the issue a pass on their prime time coverage. The very same day, the Shiromani Akali Dal parted ways with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance after nearly two and a half decades.
Despite this, most channels kept their focus on the questioning of three actors – Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor – by the Narcotics Control Bureau in the Bollywood drugs cases. They also reported on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to the UN General Assembly and on the external affairs minister’s views on China as he discussed his new book, The India Way.
The only channel which accorded a degree of importance to the farmer protests was NDTV 24X7.
During its show, The Big Fight, anchor Sanket Upadhyay questioned whether the Centre was pushing another monster through legislation by allowing farmers to be exploited by corporate houses now.
With the headline, “Farm Bill: Pro or anti-farmer” and with a series of taglines like “Centre or Oppn: Who will win the farmer”, “Reform Bill in House, Revolt on Ground” and “PM to BJP workers – Reach out to all farmers”, the programme discussed the pros and cons of the Bills.
Stating that farmers were up in arms over the Bills, and had declared that they did not trust any party, the programme said, through a tagline. that the “Government policy” was of “outreach post legislation”.
During the programme, P. Chengal Reddy, secretary-general of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations, spoke about how the government was now saying that farmers will be consulted when rules will be framed.
Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh charged that the Centre did not consult the 62 crore farmers or the 200-plus farmers unions before bringing the legislation. “It did not even consult its own allies,” he quipped.
Ashok Balyan, president of Peasant Welfare Association, gave a different perspective and said that a lot of farmers were also not protesting as they only wanted the MSP to be implemented with guarantee. “Except for wheat and rice, farmers have to sell all other produce below MSP in the wholesale markets,” he said.
Incidentally, during the day there were a lot of developments surrounding the three Bills. While Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) pulled out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi slammed the proposed legislation as “big blunders” and demanded their immediate withdrawal.
On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath termed those opposing the Bills as ‘anti-farmer’, while Union minister Kailash Choudhary defended the legislation passed by parliament last week by saying that they would revolutionise the agriculture sector and lead to increased earnings in the hands of farmers.
Meanwhile, protests by farmers continued in various parts of the country. Farmers continued to block train services in Punjab by sitting on tracks. A massive tractor rally was also organised by the Congress as a part of the protest in Fazilka district, even as chief minister Amarinder Singh kept the pressure up on SAD to leave the NDA by saying it’s not doing so showed the “extent of their greed and desperation to cling to the power”. Soon after, the SAD took the decision to part ways with the BJP-lead alliance.
However, for television channels, the primary event of interest remained the questioning of the three actresses in the drugs case.
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Rahul Kanwal’s prime time show discussed the issue at length with headlines like “No fresh summons to Deepika, Sara and Shraddha” and “NCB conducted probe in two cases”.
It also reported on how “Sara claimed Sushant took drugs: Sources” and “Deepika didn’t admit to taking drugs: Sources”. The show also reported on the duration of the questioning with taglines saying, “Deepika questioned for over five hours”.
Simultaneously, the channel also ran images of PM Modi addressing the UNGA and referring to how he questioned for how long India will have to wait for a prominent place in the Security Council, ran sub-heads to the effect that read, “Modi demands bigger role for India” and “India must be in UN decision making”.
It also questioned the UN’s efforts to fight COVID-19 with sub-headings that said, “Modi decries UN response on Covid. Where’s UN in this joint fight?”
Another English channel Times Now had a detailed programme on “China, Pak and Unpredictable Times” in which anchor Rahul Shivshankar interviewed External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar about his new book, The India Way, and recent developments regarding China.
With taglines that read “Has India captured our land” and “Hear Jaishankar’s searching response”, the programme discussed how India was “Tackling China, Pak and Mind Games”.
During the discussion, Jaishankar contended that “you are calling out a match before it is half way through” and that “this is an ongoing situation, you are not going to a word out of me”.
He also insisted that “Indian armed forces are dealing with a serious national security challenge.”
Asked about the political response, the minister said, “most political leaders, across political parties, are understanding the situation – especially those who have held political office.”
As a tagline quoted “Rahul Gandhi: Raksha Mantri’s statements shows PM misled India”, the minister said, “responsible political leaders get it.” Other headlines showed the opposition questions like “Govt evading queries on LAC: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury” and “Did NDA duck China in Houses.”
Jaishankar also stated that ‘consensus view was to send a united message to China’ – a message of support and solidarity.
The channel in its prime time show focussed on the “Drug investigation” and said “Three ‘A’ listers interrogated by NCB”. As it went about covering the questioning of the three actresses, its headlines gave definitive calls like “Bollywood clean up begins” and “Is it all leading up to Sushant truth”.
It also devoted a fair bit of time to the questioning of Deepika Padukone and also noted “Deepika calls up lawyers post grilling.
Arnab Goswami’s Hindi channel Republic Bharat, which has been following the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the consequent drug probe closely, also focussed entirely on the interrogation of the actress during the prime time.
Like most Hindi channels, it too took direct swipes at the actresses with sub-heads like “Nasha Mandli ka big boss kaun” (Who is the leader of the drug gang) and “Drugs mandli hi Sushant ki katil” (Drugs gang responsible for Sushant’s death).
As its reporters went around walking in the middle of roads and waving their hands as they stressed on various points, the sub-heads gave out the developments of the day. They read: “Shraddha kay khilaf saboot” (Proof against Shraddha), “Chat main CBD ki maang” (demand for CBD emerges in chat), “Sabuton say ghriri Deepika” (Deepika surrounded by evidence) and “Drugs main doobin kitni naikain” (how many actresses are involved in drugs).
The channel too focussed on the drug probe. Here anchor Sanket Upadhyay did a show which ran headlines like “Drugs par kitni Shraddha” (how much faith on drugs) with a peg around how the actor was questioned by NCB.
The programme also had headlines that proclaimed that she was questioned for nearly six hours and that it covered two cases.
The programme also questioned if the case would impact the endorsements that actors make. “Heroinon ka drugs gang – Sushant kay farmhouse par drugs party ki baat maani” were some of the other headlines which showed how the Hindi channel of the group wanted to keep pace with other channels on the coverage of this case.
During the show, singer Shibani Kashyap asked why was there a different yardstick for filmstars when in other cases of rave parties, the accused are not hounded once they are proved innocent.
The answer came from famous bhajan singh singer Anoop Jalota who said stars sometimes have to pay a big price for their popularity. He said because they are stars, they also come under greater scrutiny. “Bahut upar agar plane hai, toh girta bhu utni hi zor say hai” (If a plane flies high, it also drops with great impact), he reasoned. The programme also discussed the issue with lawyers Ujjwal Nikam and Vineet Dhandha.
The channel while reporting on the drugs case with taglines like “Deepika nay drugs lene ki baat nahin kabuli” (Deepika accepted taking drugs), “Sources: All three came with preparation” and “Sources: NCB not satisfied with the replies of actors) questioned who arranged the drugs for a party on an island.
It also ran the questions purportedly posed by NCB to Sara Ali Khan in a slide show. Also it asked, “Did she go to Thailand with Sushant, how many times did she visit his farmhouse”.
The channel also reported that well-known film producer Karan Johar too could be questioned saying, “Karan Johar tak pahunchi drugs ki Aanch” (the fire of drugs has reached Karan Johar).
It added that Kshitij Ravi Prasad, a former director of Dharma Productions, which is owned by Johar, was today arrested in the case and that this has brought the spotlight on Johar. Incidentally, the produced had a few months ago posted a video of several top stars – who appeared high — at a party at his house, which had later gone viral.
The report said Kshitij had also disclosed names of five stars and two producers to the NCB.