"Is This Just For The Sake Of TRPs?": Criticism Over Rahul Kanwal's "Daring" Journalism In Maoist-Hit Bastar
Lead anchor of India Today, Rahul Kanwal recently took his show, “Jab We Met” deep into the jungles of southern Chhattisgarh. This area is particularly known for being a heavily Maoist-controlled territory and is one of the world’s most conflicted regions. The description for the show says that Kanwal was on a journey to “get the firsthand sense of what goes into the battle against the Naxals. India Today joins CRPF’s CoBRA commandos in the Jagdalpur district of the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.”
The episode showed a simulation exercise by the CRPF, which is routinely carried out to prepare the jawans better for any battle-like situations. However, this episode and Kanwal, in particular, has received a lot of backlash. The whole episode has been termed as a histrionic, which has in turn not only discredited ground reporters who, ignoring the risk to their own lives cover ground realities, but also made a mockery of the horrible conditions which the jawans and villagers have to endure.
We not only show you file footage, we take you to ground zero. This week on #JabWeMet, @rahulkanwal, along with anti-Naxal forces, takes you through some of the key Naxal areas. Watch this daunting episode tonight at 9.30 only on India Today TV pic.twitter.com/AmdpCsNTia
— India Today (@IndiaToday) November 10, 2018
It may be noted that the whole exercise shown on the show was staged. There were recurring texts of “representative video” and “simulation exercise” throughout the show, however, Kanwal did not explicitly mention the same himself.
In fact, at one point in the episode, as part of the exercise, the group which had been accompanying Kanwal met an injured soldier who is then airlifted by a rescue operation. It is now being speculated that the rescue helicopter was brought just for this episode as it was highly unlikely that a helicopter would be brought for a mere simulation exercise.
It may be noted that in an article titled “Army-Media Relations In Sub-Conventional Conflict”, author Lt Gen RK Nanavatty mentions that the there are a few fundamental principles which must govern army public information in sub-conventional conflict. Some of the principles mentioned are being factually correct, maintaining confidentiality and that of understatement (refraining from exaggeration and hyperbole).
Soon after the episode, Kanwal interviewed Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who spoke in lengths about his government’s success in effectively tackling the Maoist issue in the region.
Criticised for underplaying difficulties faced by actual ground reporters
In an interview to Janta Ka Reporter, Salman Ravi, veteran BBC journalist who has a 30-year experience of covering Maoists said that it was people like Kanwal who make their tasks difficult. He said, “He (Kanwal) is making a mockery of all those who are risking their lives in the conflict zone. He is, at the same time, also making a mockery of the men in uniform that he is accompanying. A mockery of their sacrifices. Is this sham just for the sake of TRPs?”
These people make our task difficult and dangerous.He is making a mockery of all those who are risking their lives in…
As a person who had worked extensively on this issue, he said he has always refrained from making news out of issues which could sensationalise the whole problem.
Recent incidents of journalists being attacked at Maoist-hit areas
On October 30, a journalist and two policemen were killed in an attack by Maoists in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The journalist was on his way to cover the inauguration of the polling booth set up at Nilavaya after 20 years, ahead of the Chhattisgarh elections. Lighting assistant Mormukut Sharma who accompanied the slain journalist was caught in the ambush. He, in fact, recorded a video, which he believed would be his last. However, he survived the attack, but his video and the whole video is a testament of what journalists have to go through.
In another incident, three journalists were detained for three hours by the Chhattisgarh Police on October 20 in Narayanpur district in the Bastar region. The three journalists were there in the region to cover the run-up to the state Assembly elections which are to take place in two phases – November 12 and 20. They were allegedly detained without any proper reason.