It’s elections time, yet again. This is when politicians go into overdrive mode. But the pre-elections period used to be more engaging till a few years ago. Over the last decade, media coverage leading up important elections has become increasingly vitriolic, and arguably less interesting and enriching as a result.
Over the last month, for instance, the entire coverage of Gujarat elections has been about name-calling and personal attacks. It does not help matters when the Prime Minister of the country campaigns like a Chief Ministerial candidate or a Party President would. By him doing so consistently, state elections have now acquired ‘national’ status by default.
But even if state elections become ‘national’ in their status, they can still be about real issues. But no such luck as far as the media coverage goes. After all, who’s interested in facts, figures and objective analysis? Headlines day after day pick issues that may have very little to do with the real influencers on ground, which decide which way the common man votes.
But the real influencers do not make for good copy. They do not provide the context for “outrage”, which is now the default mode in which most television and digital news operates.
If you travel across the country and ask aamvoters about their views on the politics and governance in the country, both at the Centre and in their own state, the lack of depth in perspective can sadden you. It’s not as if people do not want to have an informed opinion. They just don’t have access to good information anymore.
Yes, you could hardwork your way through good information, by identifying a handful of independent media platforms that remain. But that’s now how television works, at least. People sit in front of the TV and expect the TV to do things to them. No one wants to “figure things out”. So, if you hear outrage on irrelevant issues, you will play back outrage on irrelevant issues.
Take some of the spokespersons of the top parties, for instance. The way they project themselves, and hence the politicians community, on the prim time is nothing short of embarrassing. Forget class or grace, even their basic education and upbringing can come under the scanner. And more often than not, seasoned anchors who know their stuff sit back quietly and enjoy insults being exchanged. It makes for good “entertainment”, after all.
The role of media in nurturing a throbbing democracy like ours is well-known and appreciated. However, we are currently in a situation when this role has been relinquished by most mainstream media houses, either in pursuit of “entertainment”, or because of their political alignments, or both.
When there were a series of scams during UPA 2, the outrage in the media seemed fair and justified. But today, it’s a default setting that’s damaging news media at a root level. Because the human pursuit of knowledge and intellectual development is the original premise on which the idea of “news” had thrived. If we lose that, we may as well as find another word for “news”.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.