The second event in the IAA Conversations series was hosted in Mumbai today, 10 April 2014. The ‘Conversations’ were on the question: ‘Do opinion polls and media reports influence voters’.
Discussing the topic were Shiv Sena’s Prem Shukla, BJP’s Ram Naik, Anand Rathi Securities’ Anand Rathi (moderator), political analyst Kumar Ketkar and Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha (R to L pictured above).
'Media shapes priorities'
Opening proceedings, Rathi underlined the importance of media’s role in a democracy. He also set the tone of the debate, noting that media has become more widespread today than in the past (with multiple mediums coming into play).
Shiv Sena’s Shukla emphasised on how media has grown since the time of elections in the 1980s. “There was a time, when even if a party worker, party symbol or voter card reached people, they would go out and vote for them. But the role of media has changed since then. Democracy has become transparent. Today, every candidate’s details are before you,” he elaborated.
Touching upon a core issue of debate in the recent past, Shukla contended, “At the same time, there is the issue of paid news. But from within media too, things like paid media have faced criticism. Therefore media should be appreciated.”
Asked pointedly if media reports influence voters, he explained, “There is an influence of media... Take a product like Lux soap. If you have a good heroine endorsing it, it will be bought. But if the product is not good, it won’t be bought a second time.”
BJP’s Naik defined the role of the media in the decision making process by voters, by splitting the cycle into two: the process of gathering information and the subsequent decision-making.
“Knowing information is one thing, being able to decide is another,” he argued.
While debates were on themes of communism, socialism, capitalism and the like in the past, the era of ‘isms’ is over, he contended. Naik added, “It’s about governance today. In such a scenario, information disseminated through media is very important. People will ultimately vote on the basis of their understanding of who can provide good governance.”
He reasoned that governance becoming a key issue in itself has been because of the ability of people to know ‘who has done what’.
‘Indian electronic media has failed India’
While ceding that there are ‘no two ways’ about the importance of media’s role in any democracy, Congress Jha questioned: “But has media done its job right?”
He further urged the audience to recall a rachnathmak (formative / constructive) debate on television, citing examples of his own experiences in news studios. His moot point was that while the media embraces the negatives, it does not highlight positives.
“Media has failed India. In particular, Indian electronic media has failed India. By posting only negative comments, and by ignoring the transformation of India,” surmised Jha.
Shukla countered this with a timely quip on Yuvraj Singh – he noted that when he hits sixes and fours, the media celebrates him, but will criticise him to shreds. He also touched on the Aam Aadmi Party, which, he held, got phenomenal media support initially and did not voice its views then, but is criticising the media for being against it when being in the line of fire.
Veteran journalist and political analyst Kumar Ketkar put things in perspective when he held that the media should not be painted in one brush stroke.
‘Media is a plural word; media is also plural in its views – it is not toeing one line. The reader and viewer are determining the nature of media,” he said.
Stating that the role of media is to educate, engage, entertain, lead (and sometimes mislead), he elaborated, “Media has learnt today that panel discussions are also entertainment – especially television media. They expect us to give platonic wisdom in 30 seconds.”
Ketkar also presented the counterpoint that all this does not mean that the media should be suppressed. He explained, “Even if they are misleading, they should be allowed to. Other media should point out what is misleading.”
Naik noted that during elections, media is very important, but cautioned that its importance would remain only when it presents accurate reports and demarcates view and commentary from the news.
Jha surmised, “Not as a political spokesperson but as a citizen, when the integrity, the credibility, of news media is challenged, there is a serious issue. In these elections, there are a number of questions that have been raised on the media. These should make the media introspect.”
(Editor’s note: The ‘Conversations’ happened in Hindi, and are being reported in English. So there may be some degree of compromise in the quality of translation.)