Tag Archives: Elections

In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy media

GIRISH NIKAM writes from New Delhi: Now that the elections are over and done with in Gujarat, one needs to look at the role of the media in that State, its pliant nature and the increasing commercial angle in its reportage.

Whether newspapers or TV channels, the Gujarati language media by and large tried to avoid discussing “controversial issues” like the 2002 pogrom, the status of the riot-affected victims, or any of the raging controversies.

Angrezi media ki tarah, hum (Narendra) Modi ko ungli nahin karte (unlike the English media, we do not finger Modi),” was a revealing comment a Gujarati TV channel reporter in Ahmedabad made.

So much so, what was being heatedly discussed in national newspapers and TV channels based outside Gujarat, and also by some of the English language newspapers in the State, was completely avoided by the local language media. All through the campaign, Modi, who was visibly hostile to journalists from the national media or downright cynical, was seen in an unusually good mood on a Gujarati TV channel, while on a “live” programme.

There were no questions asked about the various allegations being made against him by the Congress leaders; no questions about the Tehelka expose which had brought out how the 2002 carnage was perpetrated, in the words of the perpetrators themselves; no questions about the status of the court cases; no questions about the Sohrabuddin issue.

“We are clearly told earlier, before Modi accepts to give an interview, that none of these questions are to be asked and we in the Gujarati media stick to it,” the TV channel reporter confessed.

In fact, the channel went out of its way to ensure during the claimed “live” programme that Modi did not have to face any “inconvenient” questions from the viewers. “It was not a ‘live’ programme. If it was ‘live’ and viewers were free to ask him questions, then why were no telephone numbers being flashed on the screen for the viewers to call,” a journalist of a leading English newspaper in Rajkot, pointed out.

If the tendency to toe a suggested line is worrisome, what is equally worrisome about the Gujarati media is the increased commercialisation of the news space.

“Whether it is the news columns or the editorial page, everything is available for a price in the Gujarati media,” a senior Congress functionary who was actively involved in the Congress campaign, revealed. “We had a separate budget earmarked for the media. If we did not pay, our news stories would not appear at all in these newspapers.”

In other words, the political parties not only had to pay for the advertisements which appeared under the party’s banner in these newspapers but also had to pay for the news items of any event or meeting held by it. “If we refused to pay to cover a rally or a meeting, and sometimes even a press conference, there would be no news about it next day, except for big rallies involving names like Sonia Gandhi or the Prime Minister,” the AICC functionary added.

This was corroborated by any number of reporters and agents cum reporters of various Gujarati newspapers across the State. “Paid news”, as it has become known in the media vocabulary in the State, has become a standard fixture, and the rates are fixed.

Pointing to a double-column story in a Gujarati newspaper, a stringer-cum-agent of a Hindi newspaper in Navsari district says, “See, for this story, the BJP candidate had to pay Rs 12,800.”

Who pockets the money? The stringer says 85 per cent of it goes to the newspaper’s management; the agent-cum-stringer of the town who gets it is paid a commission of 15 per cent. “Everyone in the edition shares it,” he adds with a tinge of regret as his newspaper is not “in demand” and he is losing out on the commission.

The “news report” is obviously heavily tilted in favour of the candidate who has paid for it, with all the positive reasons being written about how he is going to win. This kind of commercialisation has resulted in readers being left utterly confused, as they are unable to decipher what has been paid for in their newspapers and what come to them without any strings attached.

One of the leading newspapers, as if to keep its conscience clean, uses a technique to justify its decision to sell editorial space. “There is a dot (dingbat) at the end of the story, which signifies that it is paid news,” says a stringer-cum-agent of a Gujarati newspaper in Surat district, pointing to a story. But this is confined to only one of the leading newspapers. Others don’t have any such qualms.

Result: readers are left high and dry when it comes to getting honest news, views or trends about the elections.

A hotel owner in Himmat Nagar in Sabarkantha district expresses this confusion of the readers by pulling out the previous day’s leading Gujarati newspaper. On one page, side by side, are two stories, both double-column stories of the same size, about the two rival candidates in a particular constituency.

“Look at this, this story says this candidate is surely winning the elections, while the adjoining story about the rival candidate also says exactly the same thing, that he is going to win!” points out the hotel owner. “These newspapers are making fools of all of us. Sab bikhau hai (everything is on sale).”

The candidates have now come to believe that the only way they can get publicity is by paying the journalists. Even a journalist whose intentions are nothing but journalistic also is seen through the same eyes by the political parties and especially the candidates.

“When I went to talk to a candidate to get details about him and his campaign, I was asked, ‘Yeh sab chodiye, yeh bataiye kitna dena hai (that’s all right, just tell me how should I give)”, and he pulled out bundles of one -hundred and five-hundred rupee notes from his pocket,” revealed a young reporter of a Hindi daily newspaper in Surat.

After a fact-finding enquiry undertaken by the Editors’ Guild of India following the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, Dileep Padgaonkar had remarked about the role of Gujarati media: “I feel their prime interest is commercial.” It is only getting worse going by the recent experiences in the Gujarat election. The only people who stand to lose in this politician-media nexus are the ordinary readers, and of course, the cause of good journalism.

A translated version of this piece appears in the latest issue of Outlook Saptahik

Also read: ‘Media is now part of a conspiracy of silence

SUCHETA DALAL: How The Times of India sells its editorial space

SUNIL K. POOLANI: Selling editorial space; changing times

Cross-posted on churumuri


‘Media became a prisoner of its own fabrications’

Swapan Dasgupta in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“In Gujarat, the media were neither disinterested observers nor merely biased against Narendra Modi; they were an active participant. From disseminating ridiculous stories about lack of crowds in Modi’s meetings and overplaying the Patel revolt in Saurashtra to Yogendra Yadav’s self-confessed doctoring of the exit polls, the media took it upon themselves to ensure Modi’s defeat. The suggestion that the English-language media were the worst offender is not true; for purely collateral reasons the Gujarati print media led the charge.

“Media activism ensured that a large section of India switched on to their TV sets last Sunday morning fully expecting the downfall of the man who has been painted as a cross between Hitler and Attila the Hun. The results helped catapult Modi to the national stage as the man who could dare—and win. If it hadn’t been for the media becoming a prisoner of their own fabrications, the impact of Gujarat would have been strictly regional.”

Read the full article: Merchant of victory

‘The English media is being pigeon-holed’

The branding of the “English media” in India as “elitist, pseudo-secular, left-wing, liberal, disconnected, rootless, pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu, pro-Congress, anti-BJP”—as if the English media is one animal; as if all of us receive our assignments and paycheques from Prakash Karat if not the Pope himself—would have gone down as one of the most successful campaigns undertaken under the right-wing captaincy of L.K. Advani, if only it weren’t so subversive in its intent.

Essentially, the premise has been as kindergarten-ish as George W. Bush: either you are with “us” or against “us”.

If you can tom-tom Hindutva as the greatest liberating force on earth, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Hindu. If you can wear your blinders (supplied) and only see Gujarat’s stratospheric rise under Narendra Modi, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Gujarat. If you can suspend your disbelief and applaud slaughter as statecraft you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Muslim. If you can call Sonia Gandhi names, you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Congress. Etcetera.

Certainly, the “English media” is not without fault. We get many things wrong; probably, we get everything wrong. We must be questioned, criticised, scrutinised, corrected.

But the result of this Goebbelsian campaign is an extraordinary (and growing) cynicism of the “English media” that plays right into the hands of those who sowed it and pays them rich dividends. Picking holes and splitting hairs has become a fine art, and a national pastime especially among adherents to the “cause” who cannot distinguish between journalism and propaganda, news and opinion, journalists and pamphleteers.

That hallucinatory state of mind got amply reflected in a chat that RAJDEEP SARDESAI , the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, had with viewers on the channel’s website this evening. In the wake of the victory of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections, and the channel’s perceived bias against him, Sardesai ended up batting the usual bouncers.


Vijay: The English media is biased against Modi and BJP. “Many” are pro-Congress. An easy way to increase the TRPs is rake up the post-Godhra issue. Why don’t you talk about Godhra or Nandigram?

Rajdeep Sardesai: I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro- and anti-camps, especially in the context of Gujarat. Why can’t we discuss issues honestly and dispassionately without attaching labels? At CNN-IBN, we speak on a range of issues from Godhra to post-Godhra to Nandigram.

Raju: Mr. Rajdeep, can you accept it (the victory of Modi) is a defeat of media, particularly CNN-IBN also? Because the media is showing maligning and insulting pictures of Gujarat everytime in the name of Modi!

RS: A victory for Modi is not a defeat for the media, it is the defeat of the Congress party. Far from showing an insulting side of Gujarat, we have attempted to show all sides of the Gujarat story, the good, the bad and the ugly. I might add here that in every poll we did on Gujarat, we said Modi was winning.

Sareeta:Why do you think the media failed miserably to predict such overwhelming majority of BJP despite all odds? The English media was optimistic till the last minute that there would be a Congress swing and anti-establishment buzz throughout the state, but it didn’t happen. Modi dislikes English media strongly for this biased and parochial attitude for the media’s so-called pseudosecular tilt. He has not yet given any interview to any news channel, last time it was bad blood in the Karan Thapar show. How do you foresee the English media’s relationship with Modi will go from now? Will it be anti- or pro-Modi now when the Gujratis have given their verdict in huge numbers?

RS: I think the media and pollsters got Saurashtra horribly wrong. We cannot escape responsibility for that. But let me be honest: at no stage, did I feel that the Congress had any chance in Gujarat. In fact, I’ve just won a single malt bet for predicting more than a 110 seats for the BJP!! I think we need to look at Narendra Modi and Moditva without the ideological blinkers. I think the media tends to look at the Modi phenomenon in black and white terms. We either demonise him or lionise him. We should analyse and report on him in a more complex manner.

Rao: Rajdeep. Don’t you feel that “Moditva” is a creation of the media, now a much used word in elitist English media, to try and draw a line between Modi and BJP?

RS: I think there is a new strand of Hindutva politics that Modi is injecting. It combines an aggressive, muscular commitment to religious identity, but also a strong commitment to governance and developmental issues. The politics of Moditva revolves around the personality of an individual, hence the use of the term.

Whizkid_NO1: Why is Rajdeep Sardesai being seen as someone who has become biased?

RS: Because, as I said earlier, we are dividing people into “them” versus “us” based on our own ideological blinkers. I dream of an India that allows greater space for debate and dissent without accusing people of bias simply if we dont agree with everything they say. As a journalist, my aim is to report what I see.

Suyash: Modi’s positive aspects and what he did for Gujarat were not illustrated by the media. Don’t you think so Rajdeepji? Because it’s quite obivious without this he must have not won the hearts of Gujarat.

RS: Modi has definitely won the minds of a large section of people living in Gujarat. I agree his positive aspects need to be looked at more honestly. The media can’t see Gujarat as an ideological battleground only; it must be also seen as a state on the move.

Aamit: You say, “I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro and anti camps.” Then how would describe the concerted and chartered media propaganda against Modi, which we have been seeing on channels like CNN-IBN?

RS: Only last week, a Hindustan Times media critic accused us of being unabashedly pro-Modi! I guess we must be doing something right at CNN-IBN to attract such diverse opinions. We have never run any campaign against Modi. We have, as I said, attempted to present every shade of opinion in and outside the state.

(The transcript has been corrected for spellings, punctuation and grammar)

Read the full text here: The live chat

Photograph: IBN live

Crossposted on churumuri.com

Is the BJP still just a ‘Hindu nationalist party’?

The phrase “Hindu nationalist” has almost always prefaced western media reports of the BJP, and it is no different despite Narendra Modi‘s sensational, conversation-stopping hat-trick. But it is not just fair-skinned whites who feel dutybound to slap the appellation.

# “Hindu Radical re-elected in India,” screams The New York Times. “On Sunday, voters re-elected the politician, Narendra Modi, arguably India’s most incendiary officeholder, as the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, reports Somini Sengupta.

# “Hindu nationalists win key vote,” says The Washington Post. “Hindu nationalists won a solid victory Sunday in a closely watched election in Gujarat, one of India’s wealthiest and most restive states, further weakening the ruling Congress party ahead of national elections,” reports Emily Wax.

“Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist and chief minister of the western state of Gujarat has now staked his claim to leadership of his party—and perhaps his country,” reports Jeremy Page, in The Times, London.

#”The Hindu nationalist BJP has won a key election in the western Indian state of Gujarat, final results show,” says the BBC.

# “Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, admired by corporate India as a model politician and feared by Muslim and Christian minorities as a messianic Hindu icon not averse to violence, scored an emphatic victory on Sunday,” reports Jawed Naqvi in The Dawn, Karachi.

# “Controversial Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi swept back to power in… in the Hindu nationalist bastion… in what was called a national victory over the rival Congress Party,” reports Ajay Jha in Gulf News, Dubai.

# “Controversial Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi swept back to power by a wide margin in India’s religiously divided state of Gujarat yesterday,” reports Agence-France Press in The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.


Should the BJP take offence at being straitjacketed as “Hindu nationalists” like “Islamic fundamentalists”? Should it just not care since this is just the outpouring of what it calls “a pseudo-secular, English media”? Should it be justly proud of the epithet?

Cross-posted on churumuri.com

‘Modi has punctured vanity of corporate media’

Sheela Bhatt, managing editor (national affairs), rediff.com, and one of the few journalists who predicted the Gujarat elections accurately, on the strange symbiosis between the media and chief minister Narendra Modi:

“In Gujarat, many people wondered: “Look, how powerful is Modi. He can even defeat the media.”

“Today, the common belief is that the corporate media wields power. And the media, too, has come to believe in its power. But Modi has punctured the vanity of the corporate media. He ignored the media barons. Modi is the first Indian politician to transcend India’s corporate media. The result was predictable. He got so much bad publicity that the people started sympathising with him, concluding that he was a victim of the ‘power-wielding’ media.

“When the media delivered brickbats to Modi, BJP supporters gave him bouquets. His image of being a lone ranger also came in handy for Modi even as the media mauled him with epithets. The common man felt, “The poor fellow—the media is just not allowing him to work for Gujarat’s progress.”

“The Congress’s biggest mistake was to believe the anti-Modi propaganda. Some of it was actually planted by its leaders. They were trapped in their own web when they started believing the so-called logical arguments and not looking at the emotional fervour within the masses.”

Read the full column: Understanding the alchemy of Modi’s victory

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com

How Narendra Modi has bred media cynicism

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi‘s image—whom The Economist this week called a “disgrace”—has been built on the rapid economic development of his State, coupled with his obscene demonisation of the “other” and a distrust of all media that doesn’t support his State-sponsored pogrom of 2002.

Modi walks out of television interviews when questioned about the massacre, terms magazines who point fingers at his human rights record as handmaidens of the rival Congress party, and has generally cultivated the feeling that all journalists who seek to revisit the disgraceful episode are enemies of the State.

Little wonder, cynicism of the media and an incomprehension of its core responsibilities is rampant in the State.

Coomi Kapoor writes in The Indian Express:

“There is an impression in Gujarat that the principal opposition to the chief minister comes, not from his main political rival—the Congress—but from the media. A journalist on an election tour in a village in south Gujarat asked a farmer singing Modi’s praises whom he should speak to get the other point of view.

“‘For that you must go to any TVwallah,’ the farmer responded matter-of-factly. In the media the issue remains the mob barbarism against Muslims in 2002, which was carried out with the active support of government machinery and for which there has been no repentance.”

Illustration: R. Prasad/ Mail Today