Ranjona Banerji: Media – new low or new dawn?

13 May,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The general elections of 2014 have been a measure of the media as much as our politicians, our polity and our social norms. For some, we have reached a new dawn where electioneering has been contemporised and globalised and the media and social media via the internet have played a massive role. For others, we have breached a new low where discourse has been shoddy and gimmickry has been substituted for solid political understanding.

 

If you live in the isotherms of the internet then “traditional” or “mainstream” media in India is not the fourth estate of democracy but a fifth column which has twisted facts and misrepresented people to fulfil its nefarious anti-national paymasters. The problem of course is that everyone makes this accusation at some point from all sides of the political spectrum. This means that the mainstream media has effectively alienated all people at some time or the other. In other words, perhaps, it has done its job?

 

This is not a defence of the media, however. It is true that various media organisations seem to have made political shifts depending on which way the wind seems to be blowing. Wild and unsubstantiated allegations on Twitter and Facebook aside (which seems to view the media as one massive conglomerate, not several competing organisations) within the media itself there is much talk of money being paid to ensure opinion poll results, massive corporate interference, people losing jobs if they do not toe the line and so on. Also, the predications are of changes at the top with prominent television faces being swapped about – all to happen on May 17, the day after the election results are announced.

 

So how did the media behave this election? The one word answer: tired. The first voting day was April 7, the last voting day May 12 and the results will be declared on May 16. That’s five weeks. But campaigning started well before that. So we have had relentless election-related news from the end of last year. The country has run out of steam, forget the media.

 

Television takes the brunt of the tedium if only because it is the first frontier. It fights for attention, it breaks news, it makes up breaking news and its breathless excitement is often just some reporter looking to make his or her mark on a transient medium. Newspapers have tried to give us blanket coverage but there have been some serious lapses. It took everyone a long time to focus on Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh for instance. The dogged insistence on local coverage for various editions of national newspapers meant that readers remained ignorant of what was happening elsewhere in the country even though this was a national election.

 

And then there are opinion polls. At the end of the day, important as they are, they are now looking like a journalistic cop out. Hand the job over to someone else and let them come out with the answers. The exit polls commissioned by news channels and reported in today’s newspapers may all give the BJP-led NDA a clear majority but their numbers are so far apart that the end result is confusion. Why this lack of confidence in the once well-respected journalistic “nose”?

 

**

 

I suppose at the end of it all, we need to discuss who to watch on May 16… A popular choice is NDTV’s Prannoy Roy since he first introduced India to the necromantic art of psephology. Then there’s Arnab Goswami and Times Now which has established itself as the control room of these elections. And there are the rest, struggling to catch up.

 

Personally, I will stick to Rajya Sabha TV because it fits with my blood pressure requirements and perhaps some Hindi news channels which I find, despite their reputation in the snobbish English media, are more watchable. See you on the day.

 

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