The simple truth about breaking news of the sort that lasts 30 hours is that time stands still, but TV has to run. Or at least it has to appear to be running all the time.
In the 30 hours between the disappearance of Rajashekhara Reddy’s chopper and the declaration of his death, information was sparse and nobody knew what was happening. But 24x7 news demands that information or no information, you have to keep the talk-shop going. That’s almost mission impossible, so you wouldn’t nitpick if the channels missed one here and goofed one there, or if the anchors run out of steam or stumble.
But when a channel takes recourse to exaggeration, deliberate falsehoods and outright lies to create an illusion of victory over its rivals, you have to call the bluff. Times Now, India’s leading English news channel, built its entire coverage of the last few hours of the rescue operation on a tissue of lies.
The channel claimed that reporter Dhanya Rajendran was the first correspondent to reach ground zero! That was incredulous considering that it was with great difficulty that the rescuers were air-dropped on the spot. Dhanya had to be a Super Girl to reach anywhere near ground zero. It was not a one-off claim that you could let pass. Between 9 am and 11 am on Thursday, anchor Rahul Shiv Shankar made this laughable claim again and again, even though his field reporter was repeatedly hinting to him that she was miles away from action.
Here is a chronological deconstruction of the channel’s spurious claims (all comments in italics being mine):
Word is out that the chopper debris has been spotted on a hill. But the forest is so dense that rescue choppers can’t land there. The only way is to air-drop rescuers. Even that takes a long time because it is risky manoeuvre.
Rahul Shiv Shankar: Our correspondent Dhanya Rajendran is at ground zero. She is within sighting… visual distance of the area between Rudrakonda and Rallapenta. In fact, she is at Rudrakonda as of now. Dhanya, what are you seeing around you?... Describe exactly what you see and how far away are you actually from the chopper? (How far is ground zero from ground zero? And if she is within visual distance of the chopper in that dense forest, how far “actually” could she be, a few metres?)
Dhanya: Well, Rahul, we have to travel 10-15 km more to reach the Rudrakonda area… about 200 cars, politicians and villagers are travelling… a huge procession is travelling. (Remember that, a huge procession is travelling.)
Rahul: Who is with you Dhanya?
Dhanya: Policemen, villagers, politicians… We will reach Rudrakonda in 30 minutes and get visual contact of the area. We have no confirmation yet. (Lie 1 nailed: She is not at ground zero. She is not even at Rudrakonda. Lie 2 nailed: She has no visual contact. And incredible truth: She is a Super Girl to cover 15 km of thick jungle, walking uphill, in 30 minutes flat.)
Rahul: Let me go back to Dhanya. Dhanya, you are at ground zero. You are a few kilometers away from YSR’s chopper (You are now closing your eyes, you are now seeing the CM’s chopper… man, is this a news bulletin or a hypnosis session?). Describe the terrain… Dhanya Rajendran Times Now correspondent is a few km away from where YSR’s chopper has landed. (A few kilometres? Forget the forest, try walking 15 km on Lutyen’s clean roads, son.)
Rahul: Let me go back to Dhanya because she is at ground zero (Looks like he’s the one hypnotised). In fact, as the rescue operation is converging, Dhanya Rajendran is on the road to that spot. Just a few kilometers away. She is sending us latest visuals of that particular area as well (Then why are you stealing visuals from TV9, Sakshi and Ntv?) Dhanya, what are you seeing?
Dhanya: Rahul we are still travelling… In fact… we have to go on foot now. We are getting out of our vehicles, the media, villagers and politicians. We have to go on foot (What she is not telling is that they have hit a stream and the vehicles can’t cross). As soon as we get to the spot, we will give you an update.
Rahul: Well Dhanya, you are giving us very, very important news… Dhanya Rajendran is the first correspondent actually there at ground zero. (Dhanya herself is saying she is still travelling, and travelling with the media, a huge procession as she say, so how does it make her the first correspondent?)
(Dhanya again says hundreds of others are travelling with her, though it’s clear by now that she has parked herself on this side of the stream. If she wades through to get to the other side, she will be separated from her OB and that would have been the end of all “live” telecast from “ground zero”. Tchcha!)
Rahul: Well, that is the big breaking news now on Times Now. The breaking news on Times Now is within a few moments the forces are going to reach the area. (Word has reached the channels around this time that the rescuers have been air-dropped. Lie 3 nailed: It has taken the para-troopers about 50 minutes to carry out their manoeuvre, but Dhanya was at “ground zero” at 9.38 am, a good 11 minutes before the airborne rescue team. Super Girl indeed!)
Rahul: Well, real time breaking news coming in here, Kurnool is the area where the CM’s chopper has been located. (That was one-hour old news). In fact, Times Now has been able to give you… narrow it all down to two specific locations, it’s between two specific locations, Rudrakonda and Rallapenta. (Wow, now Times Now has narrowed down the search area! Shame on you ISRO, IAF, Greyhounds…)
Rahul: Let’s go to Dhanya who is just a few moments, a few moments away from the spot. (Except that this “moment” has lasted a full 15 minutes and Dhanya is still stuck kilometers away downhill, across a stream that she can’t cross!) Dhanya is heading very, very close to that spot even as we speak (So you are going to speak forever, because she is not going to go there ever). We are just a few moments away now from where YSR’s chopper is. Times Now becomes the first crew really to get very, very close to where YRS is. Dhanya, what can you see, what can you tell us about the rescue operations as you are just a few minutes away now from the exact spot where YSR chopper has been located? (Hypno-therapy again).
Dhanya: Rahul, we had to keep aside our vehicles. We are walking now. In fact, there is a stream (now she is talking) in our way. People are wading across the stream to get to the other side of the hill. Then we have to travel another 5 km by foot to reach the spot. (Voila, just by dropping anchor on this side of the stream, she has been able to cut the distance from 10-15 km to 5 km!).
Rahul: That’s right Dhanya. Very momentous time… at this moment… given that we are just a few moments away (the moment is now 28 minutes long!) from reaching the physical area. That will enable us to determine the condition of the CM and others. (Times Now hain na?)… Dhanya becomes one of the first (modesty, thy name is Times Now) reporters to get very close to the spot, she is effectively reporting from ground zero. Dhanya, give us the latest. Dhanya reporting from ground zero…
Rahul: In fact, we can bring you more information from ground zero. Dhanya reporting from ground zero. Dhanya describe to us what you are seeing around you, you are the first journalist (modesty gayi bhaad mein) to reach the exact spot.
Dhanya: Rahul, this is where everybody has stopped (indicating to a bunch of vehicles). In fact, just 1 km beyond this point (waiting at the same spot some more time, she has knocked off another 4 km). We’ve been asked to stop here (lie, everybody stopped there because vehicles couldn’t take them further and since they needed to stay close to the OB vans, they could not move forward.) A lot of media people too have gathered here (Lie 4 nailed: there were many other reporters where Dhanya is, she was not the only one).
Dhanya: Less and less people are going forward (meaning there are people who were closer to the “exact spot” than the intrepid Times Now reporter). Most of the media people have restricted themselves here because they do not know the terrain. We are trying to get news from those who have already reached Rudrakonda (cheating, cheating, it was second-hand info all this while).
But the anchor still doesn’t get it.
Rahul: Critical moment now. There is a possibility Dhanya that those who have accompanied you in this search operation (it now turns out this was Times Now’s rescue mission, helped by a few state agencies) would have told you there is a possibility the CM may have survived…
Rahul: Dhanya, tell us how close we really are to physically verifying the condition of the CM (Really, Rahul, we are no closer than a few freaking miles of dense forest.)
Dhanya finally gives up:
Dhanya: Rahul, standing here, whatever information we are getting is from people who have gone to where the chopper is supposed to be. Standing here it is difficult to guess what’s happening.
Phew! Only, and only because the Government announced the death of the CM, the anchor erased Dhanya and ground zero from his memory, but there were other lies too. Such as stealing visuals of local channels and claiming triumphantly that they had managed to go where no channel had gone ever before… and forgetting to mask the identity of the channel so robbed. Not only that, right through the telecast they claimed: Times Now Exclusive: First visuals of rescue taking place near Kurnool (Ntv’s); Times Now is Ist crew to close in to (sic) site where chopper was located. I have specific instances to cite, but all that will take too much space to list out here.
So, let me call it quits with another Times Now gem (Rahul at 10:12 am): There we are. Eight kilometers from Rudrakonda is the exact spot. We don’t know about the condition of the helicopter. Times Now is not going to hazard a guess before we have official confirmation. There are many theories, but we’ve chosen to be discreet in nature where our coverage is concerned because it can lead to a lot of spurious information being put out.
Tell me about it!