The scandalous saga of Paid News & 2014 General Election

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Representational Image via Newslaundry

In a statement issued to IANS in May 2014, Election Commission Director General Akshay Rout stated, “We (EC) served 3,053 notices, 694 of which were found to be genuine cases of paid news by our Media Certification and Monitoring Committee.” Considering the fact that the phenomena of paid news was rampant during the 2014 General Elections, it becomes essential to review the manner in which it influenced the overall democratic decision making process in the country.

Press Council of India’s report on paid news defined it as “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print & Electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.” The report opined that the practise of paid news was “old” and “deep rooted in system” but it became largely visible during the 2009 General Elections.

The 2014 General Elections provided a historic mandate for the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The saffron outfit managed to gain a simple majority with 282 seats. Simultaneously, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP, registered a total count of 336 seats in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament. Journalist P Sainath noted that the 2014 elections led to “the biggest ever corporate-media drive in the favour of a single party and individual.” He further mentioned how corporate houses with stakes in media helped in propelling the Modi mania.

It has been four months since the 2014 General Elections concluded but so far the Election Commission of India has not yet forwarded any official statement about paid news to the Press Council. In the absence of such a statement, the PCI cannot issue show cause notices to the news organizations involved in paid news. With individual cases of paid news in 2014 General Elections still far from having surfaced in public domain, one is left with very limited options to figure out as to how it influenced the outcome of the same. However, on viewing the data presented by media organizations the picture doesn’t remain that gloomy.

As per data produced by CMS Media Lab, Narendra Modi received 2575 minutes of prime time television news media coverage during the months of March and April. Interestingly, other top leaders who were covered by the media including Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal just got 2046 minutes of coverage. Modi alone was drawing more coverage than all other leaders put together! In such sort of a media scenario, how can the voters have opted for someone else other than the one beaming on their television screens most often? Keeping in view the titled nature of prime time television coverage, Modi’s meteoric rise to 7 Race Course should not have come as a surprise for anyone.

The elections of 2014 were held in the backdrop of successive corruption scandals which included 2G Spectrum Scam and Coalgate. These scams had marred the credibility of the Manmohan Singh Government and were expected to play a critical role in determining the outcome of the elections. While the impact of these corruption scandals on the downfall of the Congress can certainly not be discounted, corruption remained far from being at the centre of the election debates. Since the very inception, the BJP sought to craft the elections into a personality contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. India being a parliamentary democracy should ideally have refrained from plunging into a presidential form of election but it didn’t happen so.

CMS’s analysis shows that while the issue of corruption received a meagre 3.64% of prime time coverage during March-April, personality related issues hogged 7753 minutes or 37.66% of media coverage. The facts in public domain clearly indicate how prime time television coverage helped in furthering the agenda of one man and party who eventually swept the elections.

Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison Media had told Al Jazeera that the 2014 General Elections happened to be “one of the major reasons for 17 percent growth” in the advertising sector. The huge amount of money which the media was receiving in the form of advertisements did come at a cost. The elections saw many channels altering formats and airing interviews which appeared more of a PR exercise rather being journalistic in nature. A case in point could be Narendra Modi’s appearance on India TV’s show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ on 12th April, 2014. The interview, widely alleged to be fixed, led to the resignation of the channel’s editorial director QW Naqvi who was reportedly uncomfortable with the channel turning into a mouthpiece for Modi and BJP. However, India TV’s Rajat Sharma denied the allegations.

Similarly, the format of ABP News’s show ‘Ghoshna Patra’ was altered during Modi’s appearance on the programme. The show, which involved questions from the studio audience, was converted into a different sort of a programme dubbed as “interview-based-special-show” with Modi answering questions thrown at him by the channel’s editors. Why there was such a sudden change in the format was never explained. But the move nevertheless earned ire on social media.

News X too ran clips from Narendra Modi’s conversations with activist Madhu Kishtwar during her visit to Gujarat. Modi’s monologues, shot using a single camera, were aired by News X and billed as an “interview”. Why such concessions were being made solely towards one individual is definitely worth suspecting. With the arrival of the new government in Delhi, it seems like the Election Commission too has been crippled which best explains its lack of corrective action against errant media groups.

The fact that Congress’s Ajay Maken and Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajmohan Gandhi incurred election expenditure which was inclusive of paid news shows that the practise wasn’t limited simple to BJP and Mr Modi. However, the success which the BJP registered in elevating Modi to near-Messianic status using the media had no parallel. In the words of Rajdeep Sardesai, some journalists were doing “cheerleading or supari journalism” during the elections which ended up disturbing the electoral equilibrium and giving India its new Prime Minister in the form of Narendra Modi.

http://beyondheadlines.in/2014/10/the-scandalous-saga-of-paid-news-and-2014-general-elections/

(This article was originally published in Beyond Headlines.)

 References:

Press Council of India. Report on Paid News. New Delhi, 2010

CMS Media Labs. It is Modi driven Television Coverage – 2014 Poll Campaign. New Delhi, 2014

Dhawan, H. “Editor quits over Modi interview, sparks row.” Times of India, April 16, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/Editor-quits-over-Modi-interview-sparks-row/articleshow/33797939.cms

Umar, B. “Paid news clouds India elections.” Al Jazeera, April 21, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/04/paid-news-clouds-india-elections-2014416121619668302.html

“Almost 700 paid news cases detected in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.” DNA, May 18, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-almost-700-paid-news-cases-detected-in-2014-lok-sabha-elections-1989485

Sainath, P. “Many waves and a media tsunami.” NewsClick, May 21, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://newsclick.in/india/many-waves-and-media-tsunami

Bhakto, A. “Election Commission sleeping on paid news cases.” The Economic Times, September 14, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-09-14/news/53903988_1_paid-news-media-certification-ec-officials

“Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami poles apart on future of journalism.” IndianTelevision.com, http://www.indiantelevision.com/television/tv-channels/news-broadcasting/rajdeep-sardesai-and-arnab-goswami-poles-apart-on-future-of-journalism-140608

Peeping into history through photography

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A Review of ‘Drawn From Light: Early Photography & The Indian Sub-Continent’ [Image: Alkazi Foundation for the Arts]

Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in colloboration with the Alkazi Foundation held over a month long photography exhibition inaugurated on the occasion of 175th World Photography Day i.e. 19th August, 2014, in New Delhi titled “Drawn from Light: Early Photography and the Indian Sub-continent”. The exhibition was curated by Rahab Allana, Author of Inherited Spaces, Inhabited Places & Editor, PIX.  As reported by the Sunday Guardian, Allana’s intention behind holding the exhibition was to “stress on the relevance of archiving”. Considering the objective, it was fitting enough to have photographer Dayanita Singh as the guest of honour during the inauguration ceremony as her book File Room (2013) is photographically considered to be an “archive of archives”.

The Statesman noted that “Drawn From Light showcased the rich tradition of both portrait and landscape photography.” While the landscape section exhibited works of photographers like John Murray, Alexander Greenlaw, Samuel Bourne, Deen Dayal and William Johnson, the portrait section mostly showcased the work of unknown photographers as also Felice Beato and Richard Gordon Matzene.

In 2013, Nigerian photographer George Osodi photographed the monarchs of Nigeria thinking that his work would be symbolic of “peace and unity” in Nigeria despite the challenges which the country faced from insurgent groups like Boko Haram. From the portraits on display at IGNCA, it seemed like the erstwhile monarchs of India too sought to echo similar messages (as envisaged by Osodi) through their portraits. Despite their fading royalty and increasing British clout, they probably wanted to communicate through photography their influence, sense of superiority and desire to govern. A case in point could be that of Maharana Fateh Singh of Udaipur and Mewar who ruled for a period 46 years beginning 1884 AD. The exhibition mentioned that the Maharaja had changed the colour and background of a particular portrait of his. The organizers further asked the audience as to why such a thing was done?

A possible answer to the same could be that the Maharaja wanted to communicate a resilient and towering image to the masses. The image should not have presented the Maharaja as being subservient to the imperialistic British power. What gives credence to this theory is history as the Maharaja of Udaipur gave the Prince of Wales and Queen Mary a cold snub when he refused to receive them on their visit to Udaipur in 1921. Earlier, he had also not attended the Delhi Durbar on two separate occasions. Eventually, Maharana Fateh Singh was deprived of any real executive authority by the British and relegated to the status of a figurative head in the kingdom.

Besides carrying portraits of Nawabs and courtesans, the exhibition showcased portraits of families reflecting diverse cultures. These included portraits of Svetambar Jain devotees, Bohra and Parsi families and Buddhist monks from Burma. The spiritual energy of the Indian subcontinent has fascinated the western world since ages and it was the same force which catapulted a pioneering war photographer like Felice Beato to capture images like “The Forty-nine Gautamas in the Sagaing Temple” which was a photographic manifestation of the divine.

However, the real question pertains to figuring out as to why there is such a predominance of group portraits in the photographic history of colonial India while representing religion and culture. A response to the above mentioned has been provided by University of California’s History Professor Mr Vinay Lal who has written an essay reviewing Christopher Pinney’s Camera Indica. He opined that Pinney felt “colonial photography was interested not in Indians as individuals but as specimens of types.” He further wrote, “In India, on the colonial view, individuals did not exist, one could only speak of communities, principally in terms of religion, caste and race. India was a conglomeration of “types”, and photography was most effectively utilized in eliciting and documenting these types.”

The other section of the exhibition concerning landscapes has been described by India Today as “what seals the deal.”  In her essay “In Plato’s Cave” published as part of the book On Photography (1977), American writer Susan Sontag has stated, “Photographs are really experience captured.” Perhaps, in no better words can one describe the work of Dr John Murray which also found a way amongst 250 photographs onto the walls of IGNCA. A surgeon by training, Murray ended up capturing some of the earliest photographs of the Taj Mahal when he was posted in Agra as part of the medical service of the army maintained by the East India Company. Murray, hence, “captured” his “experience” in Agra, a behaviour which Sontag theorized a century later. As a contemporary art viewer, what makes one interested in Murray’s work is the fact that his work explores Taj Mahal from varying angles which have not been noticed by a large section of people as the most dominant representation of Taj Mahal, widely published in calendars, have been photographs taken from the front view.

Another set of images which struck a chord with the audience happened to be clicked by Captain Alexander Greenlaw. Greenlaw’s photographs of the ruins of Vijaynagara had been exhibited in the past also by the Alkazi Foundation at Lalit Kala Akademi. Though Greenlaw was primarily shooting what can termed as rubble or leftovers of a magnificent kingdom, the technique he employed to enhance the massiveness of his subject calls for a special mention. The Hindu notes, “A linguist (Greenlaw), who saw Hampi and Vijaynagara with a modern eye, he often shot his subject matter from a low angle to allow the sense of grandeur to pervade the frame.” Centuries later when Colonial India has itself evaporated, Greenlaw’s work on Vijaynagara serves as a testimony to what Roland Barthes wrote in his seminal work Camera Lucida (1981), “What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” Though an empire of the stature of Vijaynagara can never be erected again but photographs clicked by Greenlaw and preserved by the Alkazi Foundation shall keep its memories alive in the times to come.

The exhibition, which culminated on 30th September, with its two sections i.e. Statuesque Enthrallment and Borders, Bastions and Bridges, provided a much needed photographic peep into India’s colonial history. It is in the interest of modern India to decipher the visual codes which remain hidden in such colonial works.

http://www.tasveerjournal.com/essay/peeping-history-photography/

(This article was originally published in Tasveer Journal.)

References:

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Barthes, R. (1981) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pinney, C. (1997) Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Pain, P. (2009) ‘Splendour in ruins’, The Hindu, 31 March. Available at http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-youngworld/splendour-in-ruins/article667286.ece. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Singh, P. (2014) ‘Photographic memory’, Livemint, 14 August. Available at http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/VF4ljj3lNGGVFLVkx73nBM/Photographic-memory.html. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Majumdar, P. (2014) ‘A look at the early days of Indian photography’, The Sunday Guardian, 16 August. Available at http://www.sunday-guardian.com/artbeat/a-look-at-the-early-days-of-indian-photography. [Accessed 5 October 2014].

Matra, A. (2014) ‘Tryst with colonial India’, India Today, 22 August. Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/tryst-with-colonial-india/1/378381.html. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

(2014) ‘Of vintage photography’, The Statesman, 3 September. Available at http://www.thestatesman.net/news/75360-Of-vintage-photography.html. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Banerjee, S. (2014) ‘Analogue diaries’, The Hindu Business Line, 12 September. Available at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/blink/watch/analogue-diaries/article6404214.ece. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Lal, V. ‘The Burden (and Freedom) of photography’, Tasveer Journal, Available at http://www.tasveerjournal.com/essay/burden-freedom-photography/. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

(2013) George Osodi: Kings of Nigeria. Available at http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/artscape/2013/04/2013421134016645276.html. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Fateh Singh of Udaipur and Mewar. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fateh_Singh_of_Udaipur_and_Mewar. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

The Forty-nine Gautamas in the Sagaing Temple. Available athttp://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=307672. [Accessed 5 October 2014]

Swachhta-fever grips Delhi University

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Representational Image via University Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much touted Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is making headlines across the nation. The country’s premier varsity, Delhi University, is too smitten by the “Swachhata-fever”.

The university campus is witnessing green campaigns by the student wings of political parties. BJP’s Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had distributed cartons to be used as dustbins near the momos-stands inside the campus. They also requested the students to avoid littering on roads. On the other hand, volunteers from the National Students Union of India (NSUI) initiated cleaning drives at several places including Faculty of Law and Ramjas College wherein the volunteers went around collecting waste material which was later on disposed at an appropriate place.

“It’s a good idea in terms of reinforcing the fact that citizens should be responsible for the cleanliness of the environment in which they dwell,” says Aditya Mishra, 2nd year student of the prestigious Hindu College. Aditya is principally in agreement with the essence of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. When questioned as to whether the campaign is an attempt by Modi to develop a personality cult, Aditya responds by stating that “it is the outcome which matters, not the intent.”

Despite of not being aware of the committee constituted by Delhi University in regards to Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Philosophy student Sadaf supports the initiative. She incorrectly mentions that the cleanliness drive in her college took place on Teachers Day ie 5th September, almost a month prior to the launch of Swachhata Abhiyan on Gandhi Jayanti. Talking about whether the campaign would lead to blurring of caste distinctions, Sadaf says, “I don’t think that one measure can wipe out the institution of caste which has plagued our society since a thousand years.”

Undeterred by Modi’s image of being a Hindu Hriday Samrat, Sadaf stresses on the inclusivity of the PM’s endeavour. “A clean India would not be solely for Hindus but for Muslims too,” she says.

Amal David of St. Stephen’s College is unsure of Narendra Modi’s “commitment to Gandhian principles.” He however mentions that the need for a nationwide cleanliness movement was long due. Currently a student of mathematics and an aspiring social worker, Amal was part of the activities which took place in his college during the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan on 2nd October.

In his speeches, Modi has often stressed on the need to convert the campaign for cleanliness into a mass movement. He wants the Swachhata Abhiyaan to command the same amount of importance for 21st century Indians as the freedom movement did for the countrymen from the previous generation. Considering the fact that “well begun is half done”, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan has already made a promising start by taking into confidence India’s youngsters.

http://www.universityexpress.co.in/delhiuniversity/2014/10/swachhta-fever-grips-delhi-university/

(This article was originally published in University Express.)