Karnataka Elections: Getting in to the Mood for 2019

04 May,2018

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Yet another election is around the corner. Karnataka goes to polls next Saturday (May 12) and the results will be out three days later on May 15. In days of the yore, state legislative assembly elections (barring the 2-3 bigger states) were not national news. All that has changed, of course, in recent years. Each state, however small, is big news in the national media for weeks together. We saw that with the elections in the North-Eastern states recently, and now with Karnataka.

 

The coverage has been limited to coverage of political rallies and events around the elections. Mostly, this comes down to covering rhetoric and accusations (and counter-accusations). Most of this rhetoric has been around national issues and national leaders. State-level issues are not discussed by politicians, and news media, except the local media in Karnataka, has chosen to stay away from state-level issues as well.

 

Why does the national media not cover state elections for what they are: About a state? Should the media not work doubly hard to highlight key issues of the state if the politicians in question are busy contesting on ‘non-issues’? For example, the Supreme Court verdict on the Cauvery water dispute has been held up from execution by the Government, because implementing it before the Karnataka elections will displease people of the state. Why is no one (except Mirror Now in this case) talking about this real ground-level issue?

 

Is it just lazy journalism? Certainly not. It’s journalism on purpose. Ask any active political journalist today and they will tell you that Elections 2019 is a ‘mega news event’ waiting to happen, especially for television news channels. It is like IPL is to the sports genre. Except that the IPL ends in two months. But the 2019 General Elections story will extend over at least six months, if not more.

 

All state elections are only a curtain-raiser to this news mega event that is not too far away. Journalists are using the state elections to “get into the mood”. They talk national issues in state elections because they want to sharpen their speech on national issues.

 

We are a full year away from Elections 2019. The coverage will get progressively louder and more visible as we get closer. At some stage, towards the end of 2018, everything else may get blacked out from news television (and be relegated to inside pages in newspapers).

 

During demonetisation in 2016, the news genre saw a surge in viewership. News channels (across languages, including regional) were around 6-7% of TV viewership before demonetisation. During the peak demonetization phase, it grew to 12%. Once the dust settled, the genre steadied at around 8%, which is where it operates now. The increase, importantly, was driven by women audiences, whose share grew from 5-6% to be at par with men post demonetization, at around the 8% mark.

 

While that was a freak opportunity that no news channel saw coming, 2019 is what they have been preparing for a while now. Can Elections 2019 take the genre to 15% in the peak period and then settle at 10% thereafter? The results of this contest (news vs. rest of television) can be as exciting as those of the elections themselves.

 

 

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