We are about 18 months away from the next General Elections, which are likely to happen in the summer of 2019. With the Gujarat elections in December this year, the atmospherics have started to build up. 2018, then, is set to be the most politically-charged year in India’s history, especially from a media perspective.
2014 were the first General Elections where the true impact of the social media was prominently felt, and since then, there has been a further surge in how digital media – not just social but digital news platforms too – have begun to impact the political soch of the nation.
Till about a year ago, it seemed that 2019 will be a no-contest, with a non-existent opposition to challenge the might of the Modi government. However, things turned interesting on November 8 last year, when demonetisation was announced. That move, followed by the implementation of GST this July, has led to considerable debate about the government’s economic adventurism, and its pros and cons.
The Opposition is also slowly putting its house in order. Though it’s nowhere close to being a serious challenger for now, 1.5 years gives them some more time to set things in place. Rahul Gandhi is probably in the best phase of his otherwise-unflattering political career so far, and state-level opposition, such as Mamata Banerjee is Bengal, is vocal too.
This sets up things nicely for 2019. Irrespective of how close or one-sided 2019 is, we are sure to have a pitched battle in which the media, both traditional and digital, will be used in a way even 2014 didn’t witness.
Most television and print media houses have evident political alignments now. This has put the credibility of traditional media to test over the last year or two. And it’s in this backdrop that digital media has emerged as the stronger force in shaping up the political opinion of the voting public at large.
It’s not as if digital media platforms do not have political leanings. But unlike traditional news, digital news is a matter of discovery, with WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter being the platforms for organic dissemination. And that’s where diversity of exposure comes in. You could be reading a highly government-skewed take on the state of the economy in the morning, and then one that squashes all government claims on the same subject in the evening, both via your Facebook newsfeed. This could be confusing at times, but in general, the diversity of views available in the digital media has empowered the voter to make more informed choices.
2018, then, is ready to be the watershed year for news media, where traditional media will have to be on the top of its game to match up to digital media. It’s a contest within a contest. Will traditional media stand up to digital, even as the country’s top politicians fights the bigger battle? 2018-19 will tell us.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.