Money Power and Media Bias

(The 2014 elections witnessed a new high in the explosion of money power. And the media’s role in shaping/distorting political opinion was never more apparent. The paid news phenomenon acquired a new dimension altogether – with entire media houses, under pressure from their corporate masters, going all-out to act as the wind in the sails of the Modi wave.

The media, in its defence, would claim that it merely reflected Modi’s popularity, and that other parties (such as AAP) got media coverage disproportionate to their votes. But the question that needs to be asked, is not just how much coverage Modi was given, but what kind of coverage. In a series of interviews, which all appeared scripted to a greater or lesser degree, mediapersons outdid themselves in failing to ask questions that needed to be asked. For instance, most omitted to ask Modi about his role in Snoopgate, his definition of ‘faith in Durgapuja’ as the litmus test to separate ‘refugee’ from ‘infiltrator’, his remarks on ‘pink revolution’, his aide Amit Shah’s suggestion, in a public speech, that the Muslims are “a community that raises its hand against the honour of our mothers and daughters”, VHP leader Togadia’s threats, in Gujarat, to ‘evict Muslims from Hindu areas’, his stance on the massacre of Muslims in Kokrajhar whom he had branded as ‘Bangladeshis’, Gadkari’s remarks that ‘caste is in Bihar’s DNA’ and Ramdev’s anti-dalit slur, or senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh’s call for Modi’s opponents to be deported to Pakistan.

Those few who did maintain a fig leaf of professionalism and skimmed the surface of such questions, mostly failed to ask any follow up questions to pin Modi down, allowing him to get away with evasion or deflection. And interviews apart, the TV channels and most of the print media barring some honourable exceptions, all helped peddle the myth that Modi had adopted the campaign plank of ‘development’ as a refreshing change from divisive communal and casteist rhetoric. A symptom of the ‘normalisation’ of communal rhetoric can, as Mukul Kesavan noted, be seen in the fact that unashamed bigots like Subramaniam Swamy and Amit Shah have become regular TV faces of the BJP.

Below we carry an excerpt from ‘Many waves and a media Tsunami’, P Sainath, May 21, 2014, Newsclick)

The highest-ever spending on elections in India

A tidal wave of spending dwarfed even the money-awash 2009 polls. Since a lot of that was totted up as party expenditure – on which there is no legal limit, big spenders got away with it. No one has a serious estimate of what the TV ads, newspaper ads, rallies, helicopters, scripted for television events must have totalled. (And that’s apart from vote-buying). But we know the BJP topped the list.

As the Association for Democratic Reforms points out: In 2014, “82 per cent of all the winners are crorepatis.” Also, the ADR reckons : “The chances of winning for a crorepati candidate” were at least ten times greater those of candidates with less than a crore of rupees in assets. Fittingly, we’ve got a parliament with 442 crorepatis. That is, fully 82 per cent of members in the new Lok Sabha are people with assets of ten million rupees or more. Massively up from 58 per cent in 2009.