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Love,” observed News 24 anchor Sandeep Chaudhary, “is no longer allowed to remain love…there is an atmosphere of hatred being created around it…” he sighed, regretfully.

That’s because love is no longer just a four-letter word — it has been hyphenated with ‘jihad’ and the term has gained such currency that even those TV anchors and reporters who questioned the need for the Uttar Pradesh government’s ordinance against unlawful or forced conversions, found themselves repeatedly saying “love-jihad” in all their references to the ordinance.

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Also read: Day after UP’s ‘love jihad’ ordinance, MP follows suit with 10-year jail term 


Anchoring ‘love-jihad’

As was expected, anchors on NDTV India, NDTV 24×7 and India Today, like Rajdeep Sardesai, were distinctly uncomfortable with the UP government’s move, saying that it promoted a sense of hatred. However, several Hindi news channels were delighted.

In fact, some anchors, insisted that ‘love-jihad’ had nothing to do with a particular community at all despite being called “love-jihad”. “How have you decided that it’s for Muslims?” demanded an aggressive Zee Hindustan anchor Laxmi of panelist Jamin Shaukat Ali.

When Shaukat Ali, who was falsely described as a ‘for love-jihad’ panelist, called the ordinance “sexist and misogynist”, and argued that young women ought be allowed to choose whom they want to marry, irrespective of religion, the two anchors Laxmi and Sweta pounced on her, angrily: don’t you know that men are using “love jihad” to “fool women” into conversion, they asked. According to them, the ordinance was pro-women — “Was it not necessary for a girl’s security?” Lakshmi asked lawyer Pragya Bhushan who promptly agreed.

Such was their enthusiasm for the ordinance that Sweta announced Zee would do everything in its power to promote similar ordinances in every state.

Ministers of the UP government fanned out across channels to applaud Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for being a champion of women and to blandly refute the charge that there is anything communal about the move: “Actually, this ordinance is protecting the right of religion,” declared Sidharth Nath Singh, UP cabinet minister, without batting an eyelid (India Today).

Onto someone else who displayed commendable sangfroid. Believe it or not, it’s Arnab Goswami. Haven’t you noticed? The Republic TV anchor appears to have returned from his stint in jail a chastened man. On his 9pm debate, he’s been presenting such a calm exterior — it’s as if he’s pressed the ‘mute’ button on his sound and fury.


Also read: UP doesn’t need a new anti-conversion law. But India needs a stronger Special Marriage Act


Arnab did not regulate the debate

On his Tuesday night show, Arnab was almost courteous: “I don’t think it is too much to ask you to listen to him?” he requested — yes, requested — a panellist. He also permitted others to speak, did not interrupt or editorialise every other second, so much so that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gaurav Bhatia was heard begging, “Arnab, please come in…Arnab, please regulate the debate”.

He’s not the only one to have had a change of heart, however momentary. This week has seen most of the news channels in Hindi and English do what they haven’t since late March — give the coronavirus day-long coverage and a prime spot on the nightly debates. For two reasons: the alarming rise in cases in several states and the promise of an early vaccine.


Also read: The real threat in Yogi govt’s anti-conversion law lies in its ambiguity


Between corona and China

Channels such as News 24, India Today, CNN News18 visited markets in Delhi and Mumbai where no one other than their reporters was wearing masks. “I am eating”, explained one passerby; “I forgot”, said another, sheepishly. “I am absolutely serious… you have to take this virus seriously,” commented anchor Zakka Jacob (CNN News18) while Zee News thought it was serious enough for its anchors to teach viewers how to wear a mask and which ones to buy.

Channel after channel described the various vaccines that will soon be available, especially to India and Professor Adrian Hill of Oxford University made the rounds of NDTV 24×7 and India Today after the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trials showed a 70 per cent efficacy.

However, some channels are incorrigible. Times Now laid its hands on another damning document that exposed ‘Congress Cash Corruption’ and ran with it — a whopping Rs 106 crore of unaccounted money reportedly sneaked into 24, Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters.

Meanwhile, News Nation, Zee Hindustan and News18 India continued their longstanding love affair with Pakistan and China. And not to worry: Zee Hindustan is winning the war for us without a single bullet being fired: almost every other day there is footage on the channel of (Indian) fighter aircraft criss-crossing the sky, strafing the (Chinese) targets beneath, which then explodes in balloons of smoke.

News Nation led down a deep tunnel to an Indian underground war centre in Ladakh that would strike “terror” in the hearts of Chinese soldiers—although why the channel would reveal this to the ‘enemy’ is anybody’s guess. NewsX and News 24 along with News18 India were more interested in the ‘revolt’ in Gilgit-Baltistan against Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan after the recent ‘fixed’ elections. Visuals show such violent protests you’d think war has been declared.

Speaking of Imran Khan, there was an absolutely delightful skit on him, ‘Fakir-e-Azam’ (India TV) with an actor who mimicked him to perfection — sadly, this was tucked away in the middle of a Monday afternoon when no one in their right minds should be watching TV news.

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