Only Modi mattered to the media during 2014 elections

Tags: News
Were the 2014 Lok Sabha polls media driven? Or, more appropriately, were they Modi-driven! Some might even suggest it was Kejriwal-inspired, as it was the AAP leader who figured more in news channels than even Modi in the first month of the poll campaign.

Thereafter, the coverage of Modi moved to another plane with survey after survey giving him a clear edge. Going by the media coverage, there would hardly be a couple of other leaders who figured anywhere near him. But the key question is this: why was media repeatedly accused of ``covering a wave"? There were some others who said third front was "more in media" than on ground.

One thing is for sure. No country would have seen so much media space and time devoted to covering national elections over a period of almost 100 days! While it is a good sign that Indian democracy is vibrant, according to one estimate, until the end of May, (by the time a new government is ushered in) news channels would have devoted between 55 to 75 per cent of their daily time to poll coverage, with news papers committing 15 to 20 per of doing the same in the last 100 days or more.

Never before has Indian news media highlighted so many "opinion surveys" as they have during this period. And this, when surveys have come under increased questioning on many counts, including their reliability and relevance. The number of these surveys, with the kind of samples claimed, would have meant an expenditure of over Rs 1,500 million! Not much when you consider that the overall expenditure involved in this 2014 Lok Sabha election would cross the Rs 30,000 crore mark! In fact, never before in Indian elections has so much been spent on media and that too, focused in support of a prime ministerial candidate.

Will it make a difference to make this Lok Sabha election a game changer for deepening democracy and ensuring good governance? The least that is expected is that the media functions conscious of the fact that free and fair elections are as important as a free and independent media.

There is no evidence that coverage of concerns of voter is any better now than it was before. These elections were witness to an unprecedented war of words between candidates with hate speeches of the lowest category on display; for the media it was cannon fodder and news channels appear to have taken full advantage of the situation.

There was no commensurate coverage of basic concerns of voters, or substantive issues before the nation, or even the propositions put forward in different party manifestos. Hyping of personalised controversies has proved good for TRP-oriented coverage. Here too, there was close `jugal bandi’ between media houses manufacturing controversies to keep their ratings up.

News channels have been criticised for hours of live coverage of extravagant road shows and of nominations being filed, blatantly violating election commission’s code. Of nearly a thousand “paid news” complaints on record during this poll, more than a quarter of them received EC notice after verification. Would that make any difference? A public debate since the 2009 elections has not!

There was hardly any diversity or sensitivity in the coverage despite the intense competition between channels. The nature of coverage remains punditry and preemptive as before. Despite being a media driven poll, the campaign hardly made much difference in making the poll qualitatively different and any more free and fair or in making voters selective. I am reminded of what L K Advani said about media soon after lifting of Emergency in 1977 – “when you are only asked to bend, many chose to crawl”.

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