Even before cyclone Biparjoy (literally, ‘disaster’) made landfall in Gujarat, news anchor Sweta Tripathi had taken Indian television news by storm on Wednesday night. Republic Bharat, the channel where she works, was in the eye of that storm. The show that she put up was another disaster in itself.

Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall over the coastal areas of Saurashtra and the Gulf of Kutch on Thursday evening around 7 pm in the form of a very severe cyclonic storm causing extremely heavy rainfall, strong winds and tidal waves. BBC reports that more than 150,000 people in India and Pakistan were evacuated from the path of the storm before its landfall.

Reporting on the weather conditions in Gujarat hours before the landfall, Republic Bharat anchor Sweta Tripathi hosted a bulletin that has since gone viral on social media. (Barely) Standing with an umbrella in the studio, she twisted and turned, ducked and swerved, stuttered and stumbled under the imagined influence of stormy winds to present a simulacrum of the actual scenario. The result was both hilarious and pathetic. Hilarious because of its absurdity, and pathetic because it ended up making a caricature of what is essentially a natural disaster affecting thousands in potentially life-transforming ways.

Standing inside the Noida studio, she says: “See this.. we have reached Dwarka in Gujarat. The wind is blowing so hard that even standing here is difficult.. wind blowing at a speed of 150kmph.. it is tough to be standing or speaking… People have been asked to stay away from ports. How will people face such high-speed wind that is the question. Just imagine what will happen when the actual landfall takes place. That’s why I am asking you to stay safe. Trees are getting uprooted. NDRF teams are prepared….” All the while she continues her antics.

Moreover, the absurdity of the whole thing did not end with the news anchor’s histrionics.

2022 Florida Hurricane Video Shown in Background

The visual that played out behind the anchor all the while was that of Hurricane Ian in Florida from September 2022. We looked at a video of the storm’s destruction uploaded on YouTube by the Washington Post. The red building and the movement of the trees match those in the Republic Bharat video to a tee.

The description of the Washington Post video says: “Video taken on Sept. 29, shows Hurricane Ian slamming Fort Myers, Fla., with destructive winds and devastating flooding.”

Here is a side-by-side comparison of two screen-grabs, one from the Republic Bharat show and one from the Washington Post video report:

As it turns out, the bulletin was not only improperly presented, but factually incorrect as well. An old video from Florida was shown as visuals of the cyclone in Gujarat. But how does authenticity or correctness matter compared to sensationalism!

Aerial Survey by Republic Anchor

Just before the above-mentioned part in the bulletin, the same anchor was shown with the help of VFX inside a helicopter surveying tumultuous sea waters below.

She says: “The storm will also pass over Karachi, but Gujarat will bear the maximum brunt. I’ll now tell you where the landfall will be. We are now passing over the Jakhau port area. This is where the cyclone will hit land. And then, its speed will be 150kmph. If it loses speed, the cyclone will weaken. But if the wind speed goes up, what are the preparations for that? I’ll tell you.”

In the next frame, she ‘storms’ into the screen holding an umbrella as the Florida hurricane video plays out in the backdrop. Watching the entire bulletin is a severe test of the audience’s ability for the willing suspension of disbelief, a faculty that was thus far considered necessary to enjoy a work of creative art.

Not a One-off Instance of Mindless Sensationalism

This is not the first time anchor Sweta Tripathi has seemingly thrown all journalistic decorum to the wind. As part of Republic’s months-long ‘investigation’ into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, she was seen hounding and bullying a watchman and others outside actor Rhea Chakraborty’s house.

In another part of the bulletin, she can be seen reporting from outside the gate of Chakraborty’s house. She says, “Rhea Chakraborty, thoda to sharam kijiye! (Have some shame)… We asked Rhea Chakraborty, “What is your drugs connection?”.

The media trial and witch-hunt of Rhea Chakraborty after her former partner Sushant Singh Rajput’s death was one of lowest points in the history of Indian television journalism.

Again, in September 2020, Sweta Tripathi chased actor Deepika Padukone’s car on the streets of Mumbai to ask her questions about her ‘drug addiction’. This was also related to the channel’s ‘investigation’ into Rajput’s death. In the bulletin, she can be herd screaming, “the black car, the black car…” Then, as the TV channel’s vehicle comes close to the actor’s car, she holds the boom out of the car window and screams at the top of her voice, ‘Deepika Padukone, tell us, do you take drugs’? The other car has its windows rolled up.

Taking the Viewer for Granted

At the heart of this trend to pass off anything as ‘breaking news’ lies the belief that the audience will accept whatever they are fed. Not to be left behind, Times Now Navbharat too put out a video placing presenter Shweta Srivastav inside a helicopter as she reported on the impending disaster.

The same confidence to take the audience for granted left Republic editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami red-faced after he had claimed on his show in 2021 that he had intelligence inputs about the goings-on on the fifth floor of Kabul’s two-storeyed Serena Hotel. And the same no-holds-barred craving for sensationalism had made top Times Now editors Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar fall for a fake WhatsApp forward when they read out 30 names of ‘dead Chinese soldiers’ after the Galwan clash in 2020.

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About the Author

Indradeep, a journalist with over 10 years' experience in print and digital media, is a Senior Editor at Alt News. Earlier, he has worked with The Times of India and The Wire. Politics and literature are among his areas of interest.