Modi wave or media hype ? Media must not lose credibility
Is there a wave for the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi? Certainly yes, if you watch television channels that day-after-day and night-after-night showcase a man who has been projected as decisive and charismatic, with plans to rid the country of corruption and has already drawn a roadmap to take India to higher economic growth.
But is this for real or just media hype to create a mirage of a man who, despite being cleared of all involvement by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team) (SIT), would always carry the blot for the 2002 Godhra riots as they happened under his watch.
Only May 16 would prove whether Modi will get the coveted seat. But what is disheartening at the moment for many is the way the media, or could I say some sections of the electronic media, are "glorifying" Modi.
There is no doubt Modi comes across as a decisive and efficient leader who could change India's economic landscape as he emphasises on the need to focus on development rather than on Hinduism.
But it is not a hidden fact that Modi has carefully worked on creating his public profile after the taint of the Godhra riots in which 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, died, as he knew that the road to 7 Race Course Road was not easy?
From here on, Brand Modi was created successfully through the new and old media. In the social media, Modi already is a brand. On Twitter, he has over 3.5 million followers, while on Facebook over 11 million people like his profile.
It was this US-president-like media blitzkrieg that ensured that he became Bharatiya Janata Party's electoral mascot.
But this is old news. What is new is the way the media is going on about Modi. The only threat now to Modi's ascent to the prime ministerial throne seems to be the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). While the Congress appears to be a sinking ship and even its senior leaders are not keen to test the political waters, no strong leader from the now-defunct Third Front has emerged so far, though there are as many as 10 contenders for the top post.
As the AAP has clearly emerged as a threat to the BJP - as indicated by innumerable opinion polls that the NDA will get over 200 seats in the general elections - the media has rightly or wrongly started vilifying its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, the man who created political history by catapulting his party in the national scene after his spectacular victory in Delhi. He got 28 seats in the Delhi elections and formed a government for just 29 days.
It is a largely known fact that media is an important tool and could sway the mood of the voters - an estimated 815 million - this time. But is it right if one leader is singled out?
I don't agree with Kejriwal when he says that the media should be jailed for promoting Modi. But the point he has raised on media is a pertinent one: Is the media fair?
The question has to be answered by the media itself. And it is a tough call. But what influential sections of the media, particularly television, is not realizing is that by its daily "bashing" of Kejriwal they may be eroding their credibility before the masses and it could boomerang not only on them but also on the man they are busy promoting: Modi.
Have they forgotten the "India Shining" campaign of 2004 after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government tried to come back to power? The entire campaign turned on the BJP and the Congress and its allies under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power.
A homemaker and a mother of three grown-up children asked me directly one day when she came to know that I am part of media: "Why is media criticizing Kejriwal? Is there any hidden agenda?"
The woman in question has traditionally been a BJP voter, but changed her political affiliation after AAP came into existence in 2009. I had no answer for her. I tried my best to wriggle out of her question.
But without listening to me, the 60-year-old woman said: "Media is compromised. It is fine to praise Modi, but it should not be at the cost of maligning the reputation of another.
"Can't they understand people know what they are doing (by promoting Modi)? Who will believe them? I don't and my family does not. And I am sure many others have seen the game (of the media). What is the use?"
The media is not realising that this is a wake-up call. Today a few hundreds are asking this question, tomorrow many thousands will.
In fact, a first-time voter, Sachin Sharma, asked me this question again. "Isn't what Kejriwal is saying true (media promoting Modi for monetary consideration)?"
I again tried to wriggle out of this question. But how long could I escape? At the end of the day, I will have to answer it. The media needs to be relevant to the masses who want from us information, and analysis, and not predictions.
(18.03.2014 - Kavita Bajeli-Datt is a senior journalist at IANS. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com.)
(Posted on 18-03-2014)
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