Like every morning, my father was ready with his morning brew to start the day with his daily dose of news on TV. He grabbed the remote control from the table, turned on the TV and switched to his favourite Indian news channel.
This time, he was caught off guard when he saw a blank screen with a “no signal” sign.
My father was livid when I told him about the recent ban (which now has been partially lifted) on Indian news channels by Nepal’s cable and satellite television provider. He threw up his hands in despair and said, “Why am I paying my cable bills when these cable operators don’t let me watch news channels I want to watch?”.
On the other hand, my mother welcomed the ban with open arms. “Why are these news channels trying to malign the image of our country and our prime minister?” she asked.
Living in Kathmandu with my Indian father and Nepali mother under the same roof gets complicated at times. Whenever there is some tension between the two countries, my house becomes as chaotic as a live TV debate on Arnab Goswami’s channel.
During such heated debates, my brother and I try to intervene by being diplomatic, choosing our arguments wisely and doing our best to not trigger nationalist sentiments.
A long-standing territorial dispute between the two South Asian neighbours recently brought their bilateral relations to the edge of the precipice. The disputed territory of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura is an old issue which resurfaced in 2019 when New Delhi published new political maps after the Government of India revoked the special status granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. The map incorporated some of the territories disputed with Nepal inside India’s border.
Matters snowballed when in May, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a motorable road to the Lipulekh pass, near the disputed Kalapani area, which is used by Indian pilgrims to visit Kailash Mansarovar. The tension was further fuelled when the Indian army chief General M.N. Naravane said that Nepal’s objection on the issue was on the “behest” of China. On the other hand, Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s jibe that the “Indian virus looks more lethal than the one from China” angered many Indians. Nepal also published a revised map on May 20 showing the disputed areas as being within Nepal, infuriating India in return.
Various media houses from both the countries started adding fuel to fire. Nepal’s cable and satellite television providers stopped airing Indian news channels on July 9, days after one report on Zee News suggested that Oli has been frolicking with the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi. One operator said that the move was in response to public complaints against “objectionable” content being broadcast about Oli.
Despite improved technology, watching news on TV to keep himself updated about the world is an old habit of my father, which has not been very easy to change. His preferred choice of news channels have always concerned me. These channels are infamous for biased reporting and fanning communal hatred, and many Indians are all too familiar with these tactics. Fake news and targeting of minorities have become commonplace in news features as media houses step out in brazen support for the BJP-RSS combine. They have been aptly called ‘godi media’ by NDTV’s Ravish Kumar.
Famous singer, songwriter and poet Jim Morrison once rightly said,
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”
The influence of mainstream media is clearly reflected in my father’s arguments and opinions, and I’ve already mentioned how futile my battle to get him to flip the channel.
However, the ban on some Indian news channels prompted my parents to look for alternatives. That’s when I decided to strike while the iron was still hot. I introduced them to various alternative media sites on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
In the recent past, the Indian media industry has seen the rise of several alternative forms of online journalism. Alternative media focuses on local, social, political and marginalised sections of the society while mainstream media focuses more on corporate and government.
I now fervently hope that this change in news-watching habits will allow my father to reshape his opinions, broaden his perspective and look at things from different viewpoints. I am looking forward to this small but welcoming change in his old habits.
Shreha Gupta is a third-year undergraduate student of Foreign Language at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Featured image credit: Qusv Yang/Unsplash