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Counting day on TV: Lacklustre coverage fails to match build-up blitz

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Counting day on TV: Lacklustre coverage fails to match build-up blitz

With the Narendra Modi-led BJP-NDA set to stake claim today (May 20, 2014) to form the next government in India after resounding success in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the poll process comes to a successful conclusion without a hung Parliament.

Election verdict day on May 16 saw people glued to their TV screens as results started pouring in from different corners of the country. However, before noon it was clear which way the wind was blowing as the numbers showed BJP candidates either leading or winning in constituency after constituency.

News channels had a busy time as they covered the results as well as spoke to the key players from different political parties. Analysts and senior journalists feel that though the coverage on May 16 and the days following it have been extensive, news channels have been far too critical of the existing Government and too pro-Modi.

Post the verdict, almost every channel in the Hindi and English news genres have been covering every development happening at Narendra Modi’s end. While media houses do not find anything wrong in that, the tone of the coverage in some cases has drawn flak from certain sections of the media.

On May 16, when it was almost certain that the BJP would eventually win and that too by a huge margin, the English news channels were conducting debates with panellists on Modi’s speeches.

Meanwhile, one Hindi news channel went so far as to air Bollywood songs projecting motherly emotions when Modi went to meet his mother.

Kumar Ketkar, a senior journalist and Chief Editor, Dainik Divya Marathi felt, “It was a media orchestrated attack. The coverage was mostly pro-Modi. That is what they had been doing for the last one and a half years. As soon as the verdicts were out, it was a euphoria which sustained for the next two days. Most of the media houses relied on getting TVRs. The Congress was decimated, but the tone of the journalists changed after the results, which should have not happened. In my view, the owners of media houses had entire control over the edit policy of the channels.” Ketkar appeared on several news channels on May 16 as panel member.

Aparna Narayna Swami, media professional and a Senior Anchor with Karnataka TV said, “I would say that the coverage by NDTV was very subtle and balanced. CNN-IBN was the second best. Although the coverage by Times Now was good, too, the channel was over-sensationalising the entire development. Media needs to be balanced in its approach and should not cover any issue in a prejudiced manner.”

In certain cases, some news anchors already declared Modi as the Prime Minister even before the final results were declared. Many analysts have pointed out that the tone of coverage started changing as the day progressed on May 16. While in the morning the tone was neutral, but as the results started to come in and it was clear that the victory margin would be huge, there seemed to be coherence in the coverage and the election verdict.

A special mention has been made of the fact that Uttar Pradesh, which is a huge influencer in the Lok Sabha elections and where the BJP-led alliance won 73 out of 80 seats, was the centre point of discussion for many channels. Most of the channels called BJP key person Amit Shah and asked him to reveal his strategy that led to a historic turnaround in the state.

Meanwhile, coming to the defence of news broadcasters, a senior Hindi news broadcaster on condition of anonymity mentioned, “Everybody has a problem with the coverage in one form or another. Media is out there not to please people, but to report facts on ground. The historic verdict moulds into a sentiment, which was visible on May 16 and 17. In fact, I believe that the people who are criticising the pro-Modi coverage are the ones who belong to the other side. We do not take sides, we report what is visible on ground.”

John Thomas, a former journalist with Reuters and currently a journalism teacher, felt the election day coverage by the English channels to be dull after the huge build-up that they all had done and by even competing to start earlier than the official start of counting at 8 AM. “It wasn’t their fault. The result became clear in a matter of three hours, especially in the Hindi belt that all the assembled commentators are familiar with or are interested in. Many had expected a BJP win, but a better mix of parties and not a clean sweep so much so that many commentators looked like they were at a loss. The politicians on the programmes could take potshots as they do even otherwise. Where there was a difference it appeared the channels didn’t have sufficient reach and resources on the ground and the studio pundits also seemed unprepared for what they saw there to comment.”

The picture will become clearer as the ratings of the counting day are released. The ratings though do not measure the sentiment of the people watching the news, but does envisage how much heed was given to the sentiment of channels by the audience on the parameters of viewership numbers.

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