When every single English news channel had stationed itself to cover the Raisina Hill protest earlier today, one channel seemed to be bearing the brunt for the kind of coverage it offered.

Yes, there were sporadic complaints against all channels on Twitter – many said that Times NOW and Headlines Today tried to sensationalize things out of proportion to win TRPs, but specific comments against one particular channel made for an interesting observation.

I did not see any new channel all day, but I was tracking tweets from people on ground, from the scene of the protest. A simple twitter search with a channel’s name and negative words like ‘bias’, for instance, threw up an extraordinary number of results only for NDTV.

The first tweet I noticed on this trend against NDTV was when Vishnu Som of NDTV used the word ‘riot’ to term the protest. Mohir Modi tweeted at 15:11,

Oh, it’s a riot now? Subtle defence of the state. Well done, @NDTV. (link)

Then, a tweet from Wall Street Journal India’s Rupa Subramanya went,

Vishnu Som of NDTV uses the word riot do describe scene at Raisina Hill. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see rioting on TV. (link)

Rupa herself added, earlier in the noon,

NDTV & CNN IBN both described some protestors as “lumpen elements”.Old fashioned Marxist term normally refers to proletariat. Archaic. (link)

There was a prophetic tweet by Sandipan Deb too,

How long before they introduce lumpens into the crowd who attack the police and then the police can go on the rampage and justify it all? (link)

Rupa’s tweet was retweeted 92 times on last count was perhaps instrumental in more people questioning NDTV’s slant. It all went downhill for NDTV post that.

What I see on TV: People shouting slogans, and stopping each other from getting violent. What NDTV is reporting: RIOT! RIOT! OMFG! RIOT!!! (link)

@ndtv Can you not understand the difference between a riot and a protest. Stop being such apologists for the government. (link)

Vishnu Som of @ndtv has gone mad.He is terming the protest as riot. Need a dog catcher to control this crazy govt agent. Shame on Vishu Som (link)

You call it a riot @NDTV ? I say you are the rioter. Bunch of losers reporting their opinions and not facts. (link)

NDTV reporter, Vikram Chandra just called the protest a “riot”. [Beep] sensationalist [Beep]. (link)

No, I’m not after numbers to prove anything here. My point with this post is a bit different.

It is about how media vehicles handle live reporting when the same thing is being discussed and analyzed threadbare on social media.

Earlier, when there is a protest (for instance), media used to do the reporting and the protesters did not have any avenue to report to the same audience. Things have changed now. The protesters have social media to spread their point of view, right or wrong. Depending on their social network size, their words too get picked up and spread online. The spread may lack the numbers of a mainstream news channel, but it does have a way of getting heard.

Today, at Raisina Hill, the people were protesting and many were live reporting, via Twitter. TV news channels were there too and offering similar live reporting, using their own machinery. And we, the people, had the ability to listen to both kinds of reporting.

Much before Vishnu Som used the word ‘riot’, ANI reported at 11:22 that some protesters resorted to stone-penting and damaged police vans. That does fit the description of ‘riot’.

Delhi Gang Rape protests: Police lathi charge protesters, fire tear gas shells (link)

ANI’s Smita Prakash tweets at the same time,

Peaceful protest is one thing but breaking police vans is just not done (link)

Cop injured in stone pelting. Bizarre protests. (link)

protesters throwing iron rods lying on the ground (26th Jan). They don’t want to talk. Its gone beyond that (link)

But, look at Namita Bhandare’s tweets around 12,

I am here and the protests hv been completely peaceful. (link)

Everywhere young students angry but peaceful shouting ‘we want justice’. Never seen anything like this in my life. (link)

From India Gate to the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan, a sea of humanity. All totally peaceful. (link)

nobody was violent. Angry, yes but not violent. Just young people marching. I was there. (link)

Nilanjana Roy was there too. Her tweet post Rupa’s tweet (around 15:40) goes,

Left #raisina as the crowd started to change. The morning saw mostly students, but now its very different. (link)

Nilanjana writes in her blog, to cover this change,

Afternoon: a different crowd
But the crowd is changing, fast, and in unpleasant ways. The students, and their spontaneous protest, form a small wedge at the top of Raisina Hill, flanked by long lines of police and media. Behind them, swirling in eddies through the body of the protestors, are packs of activists, beginning to catch up to the televised, pulsing energy of this particular protest. I see cadres from all kinds of political parties, many of them, like the Shiv Sena, not known for their interest in women?s rights or women?s issues, here just to barrack the government and soak up some TV time. Loose knots of gawkers are beginning to stroll in, attracted by the tamasha?TV crews, out at India Gate on Saturday?and the composition begins to change, radically. If there were as many women as men during the first part of the day, now the back end of the protest, near India Gate, seems to have mostly men?few students, by the look of it.

So, at least going by anecdotal references, NDTV’s use of ‘riot’ seems plausible. But the perception that gathered, fuelled by many things – Barkha Dutt’s past brush with bloggers, her alleged role in Radia imbroglio and the overall perception that NDTV is a ‘Congress stooge’ – seemed to be turning the twitter-mob against them. The story, if one were to piece solely from tweets of many people, seems to go,

Students gather impromptu, in large numbers, at Raisina Hill, with no specific demand but ‘justice’… on the morning of December 22nd. Some of them start limited and mild acts of violence, like throwing water bottles or moving closer towards secure areas and this provokes the police to use tear gas shells and water cannons at them. By noon, political cadres and so-called ‘lumpen elements’ join this crowd and change the nature and kind of protest thereby making it reasonably legitimate to term them (all, unfortunately, due to a few ‘lumpen elements’) as ‘rioters’.

It is also interesting to note that other channels did not get this treatment from Twitter folks. Now, I have no idea if they used words like ‘riot’ too, but, at least going by tweets, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Imagine this whole situation like a live film where you gather the sentiment of your audiences and change the script in real time, to suit their requirement. Were other channels pandering to the masses by siding with the ‘protesters’ and avoided using words that could turn this group against the channel? Was NDTV the only one caught with its ‘riot’ remark and became the pro-establishment target from the anti-establishment protesters?

Taking it one level above – should real time reporting be done in cognizance of what people seem to be thinking? Or, should it toe an editorial line on what seems to be happening on ground… the truth? There are mixed opinions on today’s protest when you read the tweets of the day. At least going by them as evidence, there seems to be a change of group around the time the ‘riot’ mention suggested by NDTV. But it was clubbed with the morning reporting on Twitter when students and youngsters were in large numbers and the narrative got muddled against NDTV. A more important question is about what other channels’ narrative was that kept them safe from twitter-mobs.

See this, for instance. Around the time when NDTV used the word ‘riot’, Times NOW tweets,

Protesters lathicharged for the 6th time #TNWhereIsMyIndia #DelhiGangRape (link)

‘Protesters’, not ‘rioters’.


Raisina Hill: Protesters throwing slippers at police #StopThisShame (link)

‘Protesters’ again. Not ‘rioters’. Was the choice of words by other news channels influenced by what the crowds thought, sampled from tweets? Was this something that NDTV failed to take into account and went with whatever they felt was right? A larger question is of course, should news channels bother about real-time opinion of their coverage and change/update course of narrative mid-way to ensure that stay within their audiences’ favor?

Let me leave you with tweets from Sukhdeep.

Saw ndtv correspondent defending course of action taken by police.also saw him try to give incorrect info.sad. (link)

Yes there were politically motivated ppl in protest.and yes there were few elements trying to trigger violence.saw them.heard them. (link)

These are interesting times. We are quick to conclude and even quicker to judge. When one sits down to take stock later in the day, a mixed picture appears that puts the day’s events in a different light. But, by then it is too late since many people have made up their minds and taken their sides. Perhaps even such perceptions will remain only momentarily since the news cycle has moved from daily to every hour to every minute. Tomorrow feels like another eon, not another day, with every minute changing and altering perceptions depending on how many people you hear things from and who those ‘many’ people are.