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NEWS X: The Lies That Unscrupulous TV Weaves!

NEW DELHI: Former SIT chief Vikash Narain Rai, charged with a special investigation into a very sensitive case, was interviewed for almost half an hour by the wannabe Arnab Goswami anchor of News X Rahul Shivshankar on the Samjhauta Express Blasts. The interview recorded earlier in the day was to be telecast at a special program the same evening.

Rai , at his residence, was ‘hooked up’ (in TV parlance) by the News X crew to the studio where he was questioned by Shivshankar. The interview clearly did not go as the anchor had anticipated as Rai categorically told him that the investigation had pointed to the involvement of Hindu elements, that the name of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi had emerged with evidence, and that the SIT had ruled out the involvement of SIMI or Pakistan in the terror incident.

When the SIT chief, a Haryana police officer recognised for his professionalism and integrity, switched on the television in the evening he found “to my horror” that his interview had been blacked out, and instead the anchor focused on proving that the Samjhauta blasts were a handiwork of SIMI, the exact opposite of what the investigating team chief had told him. Rai said that this was a “fabricated lie” and told The Citizen later that this was completely “unbelievable” and “insane.”

This is news at its worst. When facts are discarded and/or trashed for fiction that, in some of the TV channels, is clearly following a narrative that is dangerous for Indian democracy. It has been very visible for a long while now but reached a peak during the JNU incident where innocent students were framed for sedition, with at least three of the 24 hour news channels running a high pitched campaign based on morphed videos for nearly three days.

Clearly no lessons have been learnt with the anchor on the program also taking words out of the mouth of a senior lawyer on the same show and drawing links that she had clearly not intended. Interestingly a Simsat for this particular guest seemed to have been used for the purpose.

As per a Google searched but rather accurate definition “SIMSAT (Simulated Satellite) is when a news anchor or news director interviews and tapes a guest via satellite before the news is on air, and then goes through the motions of asking those same questions on the live telecast while showing the video of the guest answering the question, making it seem the tete-a-tete is happening live.” The viewer has no idea that the interview was recorded earlier, and the said person is not actually present in the studio.

This is done by the hard pressed TV studios when guests are available only at a time of their own choosing, and yet willing to be interviewed. SIMSAT is the way out, with the guest often not averse to a “live” presence on television through a pre-recorded interview, provided of course his or her views are kept in context and perspective.

Often anchors themselves ask the questions to the guest, and later repeat the same questions playing out the specific answers. One has participated in several prime time shows—even those drawing the ratings—to find at least two of four guests not present at the studio, and having a discussion on an important topic as if all were there. In such cases the anchor turns into an actor and turns every now and again looking at an empty spot to ask a question to the non existent person as if he/she was indeed present at the spot. Later the SIMSATs are filled in and for the viewer the show appears authentic, and almost as if all four guests were in conversation.

But the understanding that the questions and the context will remain the same is being breached. And Rahul Shivshankar is earning a reputation for doing this more frequently—or should one say as frequently— as others in the business of news. This writer was requested by him a while ago to speak on a seminar on India-Pakistan relations in Delhi. He sent a team to the 5 star hotel where the meeting was being held, one was “hooked up” and he asked a series of questions and the answers were duly recorded.

Later in the evening when the show went up on air, I was rather surprised to find a panel of guests with my face there as well, as if indeed I was participating in the heated discussion. I was not brought in separately, as a prerecorded interview, but as a panel exchanging views. The problem was that I was not there. And the questions I was being made to respond to, through specific comments selected from the earlier SIMSAT, were totally different to what I had responded to. So every now and again there was this spectacle—at least to me– of Shivshankar turning to me and asking an inane question, and then even arguing with whatever comments he had run from my pre-recorded interview, shaking his head and disagreeing with the comment he had chosen out of context, in isolation for this.

I was transfixed, watching this pantomime spell bound. It was like Rai said about his experience, “unbelievable” actually “surreal” with the anchor-turned-actor emoting denials as he argued with the non-existent me. And of course not being there, I remained this mute and rather absurd presence on screen, as I was the only one not responding to the points made by others, or for taking on the anchor who was taking the non-existent me on, in this amazing unethical display of what these people are passing off as journalism these days.

The game becomes more sinister as it proceeds unchecked. The agenda more clearly defined, the censorship violent and vitriolic, as anchors turn facts into fiction, and fiction into facts by ignoring news, blacking out news, distorting news, and using prime time discussions to spell out an agenda that is visible to all those who care to see.

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