Ranjona Banerji: Death as Entertainment on News TV

14 Aug,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


The death of Congress spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi soon after he appeared on an Aaj Tak TV show called ‘Dangal’, where he was consistently abused at by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra while the anchor Rohit Sardana did not intervene, has roiled some sections of the watching public, the Congress party and of course social media.

The toxic filth that is Indian news television especially at primetime – forget the honourable exceptions, they hardly count – was shown in its ugliest here.

I went through the Twitter feed of Aaj Tak, from the morning of August 14 to the evening of August 12. It was a very painful experience. The things one has to do for this column!

This is what I found. Three tweets in connection with Tyagi, after the news of his death broke. The first, on August 12, was an advertisement for the Dangal show. Loosely translated from Hindi, it said: “Rajiv Tyagi is no more. Watch the video of the argument just before he died on Dangal.”



The link is from the Aaj Tak website, saying more or less the same thing. An advertisement for their show, capitalising on Tyagi’s death, in effect.

The two other tweets were about his death and his history and how members of the Congress Party expressed their sorrow and paid their respects. Aaj Tak’s brother website India Today carried the story below which had to be amended a bit when the initial story claimed that Tyagi had died ages after appearing on Dangal when apparently he had the heart attack almost immediately after he got home from the studio.


Several people on social media want action against the “news” channel, the anchor Rohit Sardana of the Dangal show and BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who is invited to such TV shows only for his obnoxious behaviour. Even eminent activist-lawyer Prashan Bhushan called for some action against all three.

The Congress Party’s Jaiveer Shergill made an appeal to Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar to do something to end this sort of TV debate and another Congress member has filed a police complaint against the channel and Patra.


However, as anyone with media experience would expect, Sardana’s show went on, Sambit Patra was still invited to TV channels, the people still watched those deplorable primetime screaming contests and the India Today Group has not taken down as yet any tweets where it has tried to benefit from Tyagi’s death to push their show, Dangal. Aaj Tak is India’s most popular Hindi language “news” channel. And therefore, there were several people who supported the show, Patra and Sardana!

It is highly unlikely that anything will change as far as the media is concerned. It is not possible to impute criminal intent or intent to murder as far as Sardana, Aaj Tak and Patra are concerned.

And asking for government intervention is the worst possible thing anyone can do in such a situation. The problem in India is that there is no political formation that has any respect for freedom of speech and expression, and they have all in their own ways at various times tried to curtail that fundamental right.

On what basis the Congress Party expects a BJP minister to do anything punitive about a pro-BJP “news” channel which featured a BJP spokesperson is hard to imagine.

However, there is no doubt that this is one of Indian “news” television’s lowest points in its short life full of low points. And there is something that can be done about it. Some of it comes from within. Journalists and employees of these organisations who feel strongly enough, can make a difference. In the short-term, the effects of Covid-19 have wreaked havoc on media revenues so a large-scale insurgency is unlikely. But consistent pressure is possible. I know there are younger journalists in television who are appalled at what they are made to do and forced to condone by managements and seniors.

Pressure is also possible from those in the media who do not work in these organisations. We know that television “news” has made a mockery of our profession and in many aspects has nothing to do with journalism at all, even the historically worst forms of journalism. Death is entertainment as far as Aaj Tak is concerned, judging from its reaction to Tyagi’s heart attack. We can and must speak up.

The biggest pressure of course comes from the general public. If they care, they stop watching. All these shows are based on revenue. Petition the owners, managers and editors. Petition the advertisers and sponsors. And just cancel subscriptions.

How far the various broadcasting associations have any impact on television media, I don’t know. I suppose people could appeal to them as well. Although they are more or less made of the same people who profit from such muck.


Frighteningly, journalists remain under attack from the police and governments. This is a statement from NWMI on the assaults made on three Caravan journalists in Delhi on August 11:


Hope seems dismal on all counts.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona

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