There are no wrong answers when you ask no questions

Even though the Supreme Court has not issued a “gag order,” most media have stopped asking questions already. Not that any answers seem forthcoming.


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April 1, or April Fools Day would usually see a ‘joke’ page from many newspapers, often designed to look like real ‘news’ they would say something bizarre, readers would laugh and flip over to the next page. Slowly this died out as online media got traction and such jokes were taken over by social media handles of new-age tech-backed consumer and service providing companies. It was still funny and a welcome break during what was tax season, and the onset of summer for most parts of India.

The joke is now over. April 1 2020, there seems to be no news other than hundreds of reports in newspapers, and minute to minute coverage on Television on Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area. 

Most news reports have focused on the area being a hub of Coronavirus contamination. Each has carried scores of reports from the area, and TV news discussions have focused on how those who had gathered at the Tablighi Jamaat’s mosque flouted Delhi government’s rules, traveled and spread the infection across the countries.

“Karnataka tracks down 79 who attended jamaat”, says the new Indian express. “Keralite who attended Nizamuddin prayer meet dies,” says Deccan Chronicle and another report talks about tracing Jamat attendees and their contacts in Telangana and Kashmir. The Telegraph headline says, “Scramble to trace Delhi Covid-19 links” in West Bengal. All Delhi editions of course have devoted page after page to what has become the biggest story since the first Indian was quarantined to check for Covid-19, a while ago.

The area has been called “the latest Covid-19 hotspot”, by most journalists, as well as politicians . Even the administration put all its efforts in evacuating over 2000 people in the 36 hours. The tweet shared by Delhi’s Deputy CM Manish Sisodia

set off more such headlines. As pointed out by commentator Aakash Banerjee, television channels known for their right-wing reportage were having a field day with trends like ‘Corona Jihad’ keeping their anchors excited

Even the mainstream channels, who have so far managed to report factually and without sensationalism such as NDTV, have focused on the errors of Tablighi Jamaat and its headquarters in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area being the hot-spot. So much coverage that would make a new consumer think Covid-19 had originated here and taken over the country.

The shift in media priority and focus has put crucial information needed as the Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown has impacted lives of those not even infected.


The questions that need to be kept on the front pages, and lead TV news debates, for the next two weeks of the 21 day lockdown should include:

What are the latest number of people tested, treated and cured of Covid-19

What is the current situation of migrant workers, how many have tested negative and sent home safely?

What are the conditions in the new food and shelter facilities?

What is the status of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability to medical professionals, and non medical relief volunteers working on the ground?

Why have states like Karnataka banned private two and four wheelers from plying? How will people get essential items from the market?

Perishable agricultural produce, including milk and fish, are being destroyed as farmers cannot get buyers. Who is accountable for this?

Why is supply of medicine and sanitizers still low in the retail markets?

While the above questions are yet to be asked, even the so-called ‘Covid-19’ hot-spot stories, are not complete. It is not clear yet if any mainstream media house has asked the government what actions are being taken against officials who allowed international travelers to enter Delhi without proper screening.

Meanwhile, even though the Supreme Court has not issued a “gag order,” most media have stopped asking questions already. Not that any answers seem forthcoming.

The Union government’s media briefing on April 1, 2020, is being called ‘historic’ by senior journalists. Their tone is a mix of disbelief and sarcasm at how barely three questions were asked, and barely answered before the meeting ended in under 20 minutes.

This is the first government briefing after the  Supreme Court on Tuesday said that journalists should report Covid-19 related information that is shared by official government channels. That order came from a SC bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justice L. Nageshwar Rao. “We expect the media (print, electronic, or social) to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated,” the bench has been quoted across the media.

It was also reported that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said  that the Union Government will have a daily bulletin across media, including social media. According to news reports, the Apex court had said the media should ‘refer and publish the official version about the developments’. The intention is to prevent fake news and therefore avoid creating panic.

However, even the regular Covid-19 media briefings held at 4 PM by senior bureaucrats, from the union home ministry, ICMR, health ministry and the Press Information Bureau seem to have toned down its interaction time. On Wednesday, April 1 it was addressed by Home Ministry joint secretary  Punya Salila Srivastava, Health Ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, ICMR’s Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar and PIB’s Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia.

The media, some present, most watching the live-stream online were told of routine meetings held between the Cabinet Secretary and Chief Secretaries of all States/UTs. And that “expeditious implementation of PM Garib Kalyan Yojana keeping in mind the social distancing norms,” will be done. Also that all  States/UTs were “providing food & shelter for migrant workers effectively: 21,486 relief camps have been set up sheltering 6,75,133 persons and more than 25 lakh people served meals.” Other numbers read out included: 20,000 Indian railway coaches to be used to quarantine migrant workers, and 80,000 new “hospital beds” will be added after 5000 of these coaches are modified.

The MHA official also said 25,00,000 people have been fed, and 1,486 relief camps set up to shelter  6,75,133 people. The health ministry has now decided to address “technical queries” which must now be emailed at “” According to Aggarwal this will “ensure technical support and medical guidance from AIIMS,” and other such institutions. 

Journalists are now expected to report from this briefing. There were three questions, one from the national broadcaster Doordarshan about what the community can help with. The answer was a small reminder on following instructions and rules that the government has announced. Another question about the poor quality of protective gear for medical practitioners was answered with how the government had taken some steps to get more such gear to the doctors.

A third question that was allowed sought updated information about the Tablighi Jamaat. The journalists were told to find the answers in the press release issued by the ministry earlier. That the press briefing was brief,  is to state the obvious. Maybe things will be better on April 2.


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