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

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Statements ‘PM Candidate’ Narendra Modi would like to forget

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Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by BJP President Rajnath Singh after being appointed as BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate. (Image: HT Photo)

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was officially anointed as his party’s Prime Ministerial candidate by the BJP Parliamentary Board on Friday. Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha stated that the decision was a formal recognition of the overwhelming desire of millions of party supporters and the party cadre. Following Modi’s elevation, party patriarch and veteran leader LK Advani went into a sulk and shot off an angry letter to Party President Rajnath Singh in which he criticized his style of functioning. There are two principal conclusions which can be drawn from the political show which has been playing out in front of our television screens since Modi’s elevation. First, the top brass of the BJP and RSS is firm on their choice of Modi as ‘the’ leader who is capable of wresting power from the Congress lead United Progressive Alliance in 2014. Second, any revolt to Modi would eventually be stonewalled from Nagpur by some means or the other just as LK Advani was persuaded into withdrawing his resignation by RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat following Modi’s appointment as BJP Campaign Committee Chief earlier this year.

Modi’s meteoric rise among the political circles of India has already changed the dimensions of the Indian political spectrum but many are still wary of the saffron leader’s secular credentials and are calling for alignment of secular forces to take on the Hindutva hardliner. Here, we take a look at some of the controversial things done and said by the Gujarat CM which could very effectively be utilized to dampen Narendra Modi’s claims of “not just being the leader of Hindus”.

1. Praise of MS Golwalkar – MS Golwalkar served as the Sarsangchalak of the RSS for 33 continuous years. His three decade long journey with the socio-cultural organization generated many controversies. MS Golwalkar opined that the country had three problems: Muslims, Christians and Communists. He also stated, “In this land, Hindus have been owners, Parsis and Jews the guests and Muslims and Christians the Dacoits.” The current Hindu Hriday Samrat ie Narendra Modi has written an entire book dedicated to the life of MS Golwalkar titled ‘Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak’. The hefty praise which Narendra Modi has laid on the controversial leader could well turn out to be very costly for him in the times to come.

2. Hum paanch, humare pachees – Narendra Modi mocked the Muslim community in one of his speeches during the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra held shortly after the carnage in Gujarat. He said, “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby producing centres? Hum paanch humare pachees (We are five and we will have 25 offsprings).

3. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism not Islam or Christianity – In April 2010, during the release of a book titled “Samajik Samarasta”, Narendra Modi said, “Ambedkar gave up Hinduism but did not convert to Muslim or Christianity. He converted to a religion, Buddhism which originated in Hindustan like Hinduism.”

4. Clash with ‘Christian’ CEC JM Lyngdoh – During a rally in Baroda, Narendra Modi hit out at former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh for rejecting BJP’s demand for holding elections in the state of Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. Modi made repeated references to his Christian background and his association with Sonia Gandhi for being the reason behind this well calculated move of the Election Commission. Unlike his past theatrics, this one did not go unnoticed and Prime Minister Vajpayee issued a statement pulling up the Gujarat CM for his denigration of the CEC. He said, “I am distressed by the undignified controversy involving the chief election commissioner and the chief minister of Gujarat in the context of the Assembly elections in Gujarat. Both are high Constitutional authorities and they must be given the respect that is their due.”

5. Statement Against Conversions: In a television interview to a Hindi news channel, Narendra Modi spoke of the need to ban conversions by stating that even Mahatma Gandhi was critical of the practise. However, when pressed upon to state his position in regards to reconversions to Hinduism, Modi said that there was no problem in connection to that as people ‘return to their old homes and it was a natural process’.

6. Miyan Musharraf – When erstwhile Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharaf threatened raising the issue of Gujarat pogrom at the United Nations, Narendra Modi hit back by saying, “Stop doing this Miyan Musharraf or five crore people of Gujarat will chop off the hand which has this dirty finger which you are pointing towards Gujarat.”

References:
Golwalkar – The Guru of Hate by Ramachandra Guha
Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002: An inquiry into the carnage of Gujarat

Weblinks:
Narendra’s Modi’s remarks despicable: Lyngdoh  http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/aug/23guj.htm

PM raps Modi for remarks on Lyngdog
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2002-08-24/india/27319645_1_gujarat-chief-minister-james-michael-lyngdoh-improper-language

Narendra Modi on conversions
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l2UAJG7EMU

Narendra Modi on BR Ambedkar’s Conversion
http://deshgujarat.com/2010/04/27/ambedkar-didnt-choose-islam-or-christianity-for-conversion/

Subramanian Swamy to intensify saffronization of BJP

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Subramanian Swamy with Senior BJP Leaders while merging his party with the BJP. (HT Photo)

Janata Party President and Legal Activist Subramanian Swamy has merged his party with the BJP in the lead up to the 2014 General Elections. The merger took place in the presence of BJP President and Former UP Chief Minister Rajnath Singh. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Swamy stated, “As Rajnath Ji correctly said, the country is passing through a difficult time.. for unity, for nationalistic purposes, the party is needed by the country today because of all the problems that we are having.” What we need to keep in mind over here is the usage of terms like “unity” by a person like Dr Swamy who is in reality an epitome of divisiveness and communal poison coupled with opportunistic politics.

Just a couple of weeks back, Dr Swamy gave an interview to Rahul Kanwal of India Today Group. In that interview, Dr Swamy articulated upon the strategy which the BJP should adopt in the coming elections to defeat the Congress Party and its allies. He stressed on the need for the BJP to unite the Hindus and divide the Muslims. He opined that sectarianism among Muslims has lead to a large chunk of support for the BJP from groups like that of the Shias. Headlines Today organized for a panel discussion on the communal strategy which had been proposed by Dr Swamy on its sister channel. The spokesperson who represented the BJP’s viewpoint on the show clearly distanced his party from the views expressed by Dr Swamy. When pressed upon by Congress representatives on the show, BJP’s emissary chose to defend his party by bringing up the equally hateful case of Akbaruddin Owaisi. He rhetorically asked whether the Congress agrees with whatever has been said by its former allies, a veiled reference to MIM and Akbaruddin Owaisi. Taking this line of argument, BJP got away without having to face massive embarrassment as competitive communalism ruled the roost.   

Over the past few years, specifically after he gained prominence following his role in exposing the 2G scam, Dr Swamy has fashioned himself as a Hindutva ideologue. He has also authored a book titled “Hindus Under Seige: The Way Out” in which he has highlighted the threats faced by Hindus by Islamic aggressors. These fierce steps have helped Dr Swamy in achieving for himself a massive fandom which primarily consists of Internet Hindus, bulk of whom are based outside India and are enthusiastic about liberating Bharat from the “mlecchas” whom the Congress Parts keeps on appeasing all the time. The terror attack on Mumbai on July 13, 2011 was followed by a pernicious article by Dr Swamy in which he more or less suggested a sort of state terrorism to subjugate the Muslims of India. The article published in DNA under the heading “Analysis: How to Wipe Out Islamic Terror” on 16th July, 2011 mentioned “Remove the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath and the 300 masjids at other temple sites”. Dr Swamy also wrote in that article, “Declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge their Hindu ancestry.”

Concerned about the vitriolic nature of Dr Swamys writings, a law student at Delhi University sued him in court on charges of hate speech. Even though Dr Swamy was acquitted but that was only after he gave a written statement in court promising not to make any more of such provocative statements. However, that undertaking of his is being violated day in and day out as he continues to spew venom and hatred through his speeches, interviews and writings. When MIM goon Akbaruddin Owaisi threatened to finish off 100 crore Hindus of India in less than 15 minutes, Dr Swamy responded to him on Times Now’s Newshour by stating that we saw what exactly happened in Gujarat when the police was removed for 15 minutes. Communal bigots like Swamy and Owaisi should be locked up in a single room and made to hear each other continuously for days. Only then will they realize the kind of nonsense which the people of India have to tolerate because of them.

Coming to the core issue, Dr Swamy’s entry into the BJP is going to strengthen the Hindutva plank of the saffron party. By way of recent news reports, we came to know that the RSS top brass in Nagpur has given Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a go ahead to raise the Ram Temple issue in a big way during the 2014 General Elections. With Modi’s confidante Amit Shah already entrusted with the responsibility of managing the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Dr Swamy’s open Hindutva bent is going to come in handy for the BJP in fundamentalist constituencies where backwardness remains high and elections are fought on grounds of religion. Dr Swamy can also play a very prominent role in reviving the fortunes of the BJP in the southern part of the nation. While Narendra Modi might try and woo back BS Yeddyurappa into the party as Yeddyurappa is considered close to Modi since he openly endorsed him for Prime Ministerial candidacy, Dr Swamy on the other hand might use his Tamil following to win the BJP a few seats in Tamil Nadu. Narendra Modi’s friendship with Jayalalitha will also help the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

However, Dr Swamy’s can also create a host of problems for the BJP since he is a maverick and loose cannon who can hardly be expected to toe the party line. Throughout his political career, Swamy was at loggerheads with BJP’s Bheeshma Pitamah Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Not only did Swamy mastermind the fall of Vajpayee government by hosting a tea party for Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha, he also accused Vajapayee in later years of being hand in glove with Sonia Gandhi. Dr Swamy also criticized the RSS in one of his controversial articles published in Frontline (Jan 22 – Feb 04, 2000). He wrote, “Today the creeping fascism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is coming upon not as gradually as imperialism did nor as suddenly as the Emergency did.” He further mentioned in that article that RSS’s concept      of Hindutva justice revolves around liberation of minorities through mercy killing. Just last year, Dr Swamy surprised many in Delhi by drumming up support for the Presidential candidacy of Purno Sangma. In one of the Press Conferences, he hit out at the Congress for opposing Sangma’s candidature merely because he was a tribal and a Christian.

A careful scrutiny of Dr Swamy’s words and actions would show that he happens to be among the most opportunistic politicians of India. From being an anti-Hindutva activist, he has gone on to become the poster boy of Hindutva. Narendra Modi at present is carefully crafting a campaign which he believes will open the doors of 7 Race Course Road for him but the fact of the matter is that Dr Swamy with all his eloquence might play spoilsport for the man from Gujarat. Modi is currently undergoing an image change whereby he is positioning himself as a leader of not merely the Hindus. Dr Swamy has been high on the Hindutva agenda since quite some time and during the campaign trail, he might explode anytime with exaltations of converting the country into a Hindu Rashtra. That sort of a blunder would alienate liberal Hindus and minorities in totality from the BJP. We must not forget that some BJP leaders still blame Varun Gandhi’s hate speech in Pilibhit for the debacle which BJP faced in 2009 despite Advani being their Prime Ministerial candidate.

I can say for sure that many BJP leaders would not be willing to fight elections in 2014 on a solid Hindutva plank. While discussing about sedition laws on NDTV’s We The People, I asked Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP Spokesperson), about the concept of Hindu Rashtra as articulated upon by the likes of Dr Swamy. She did not answer the question and when Barkha Dutt pressurized her further, she chose to brush aside Dr Swamy’s remarks since he wasn’t a party member. But now the situation has taken a u-turn with the BJP no longer in a position to keep its hands off Dr Swamy. Modi has definitely turned softer by not directly attacking minority groups but his speeches are still feeding fundamentalists as they are laced with puns meant to excite the imagination of the mob. It will be interesting to see how Modi exploits Dr Swamy’s expertise both in terms of activism and an unabashed Hindu nationalist. Will Modi allow Swamy to go completely haywire during the campaigning by effectively raising Hindutva issues like Ram Tample in Ayodhya, Enactment of Uniform Civil Code and Abrogation of Article 370 or will he utilize his ability of churning our conspiracy theories to discredit and expose his political opponents like Sonia and Rahul Gandhi?