In 2014, came a CSDS-Lokniti report on media’s impact on voting patterns which was based on a ‘National Election Study’ analysed by Rahul Verma, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Shreyas Sardesai of Lokniti-CSDS.
The findings of the original report were:
1) BJP beats every other party as far as media coverage is concerned
2) PM Modi beats every other politician as far as media coverage is concerned
3) Those with higher media exposure were also more likely to consider Gujarat a well-governed state
4) Those with high media exposure also tend to be richer, more urban, upper caste and younger
5) Voters who watch Hindi news on TV or read Hindi newspapers are more likely to vote for the BJP
6) In contrast, those who watch non-Hindi Indian language news on television were less likely to vote for the BJP
Leading leftist blog Scroll read this article 5 years later and used the information to come up with these:
“There is no empirical data but plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the coverage of the BJP and of Modi in particular has not only been extensive, but also largely fawning.”
“Viewers are once again likely to get carpet-bombed with propaganda. It might just work again”
These 2 lines from Scroll’s research titled “How India Votes: The news media is helping BJP win elections – and the public does not mind” sum up everything that the article is about. The columnist’s have-no-proof-so-will-just-go-with-what-my-gut-says approach and it-probably-happened-then-so-it’s-very-likely-to-happen-now conclusion make up for a droning, half-hearted and a supremely illogical read but that’s not all. The article takes extrapolation to an absurd new high.
What Scroll seems to be missing here is that this was a report from 2014. And a lot has changed in the last four and a half years. Internet penetration in India has quadrupled, JIO has democratised the telecom sector and India has more smartphones than most countries. Even the media has reshaped itself in the last four and a half years. The leading news channels of the Congress era are now struggling for survival. New news channels are dominating the charts. In India, not just the news consumers, the news itself has changed.
And along with the news consumption patterns, BJP’s traditional bastions have changed too. Who would have imagined in 2014 that BJP will form a government in Jammu and Kashmir, rule the entire northeast, get double-figure vote share in Kerala and West Bengal, dominate local body elections in Odisha and register a significant presence all over the country? The politics of the country has changed forever. Traditional rivals are now allies, many regional parties are fighting for survival and the other national party lies at the mercy of an incompetent crown prince and an ailing matriarch.
What was a reality in 2014 makes very little sense in 2019 hence the statement – “those who watch non-Hindi Indian language news on television were less likely to vote for the BJP” makes very little sense now.
Let’s come to Scroll’s assumption and conclusion part now. Scroll’s assumption about the media coverage about PM Modi and BJP being ‘fawning’ in general is ridiculous, to say the least. Prime Minister Modi has been on a media trial since 2002. Even in the last 4 years, there have been conscious efforts by a certain section in the media to portray PM Modi as a divisive, communal and polarising figure. Media has also been wondering about how expensive PM Modi’s suits are, how much his foreign tours cost, how much he spends on social media activities and promotional videos and similar pointless questions. If that sounds “fawning” to the scroll columnist, then I have nothing else to say. And not just PM Modi, Media has been extremely unkind to BJP president Amit Shah and BJP leader Smriti Irani too. While the former has been portrayed as some sort of an outlaw by the media, the latter has been subjected to incessant character assassination. Not “fawning” by any yardstick.
And as far as the conclusion is concerned, Scroll is right to predict that BJP’s plans “might just work again”. But to reject a voter’s democratic right to elect a government as “getting fooled” is both irrational and distasteful.