Cameron and Modi: Bucking media narratives

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Ayushman Jamwal  


After David Cameron’s Conservative party stormed into 10 Downing Street winning a staggering majority in the UK elections – the British media has been forced to eat humble pie, for getting their election predictions and pre-election narratives completely wrong.­

State broadcaster and British news leader, the BBC has come under heavy fire for taking an anti-Conservative stance before the polls, dubbing the party as classist and anti-working class. BBC news shows on radio repeatedly wheeled out comedians who professed to be anti-conservative, with Scottish comedian Rhona Cameron even using the platform to call the Conservatives a ‘cancer’. Veteran BBC news presenter Andrew Marr was also forced to apologize after falsely accusing David Cameron of saying that fox hunting is his favorite sport. The channel also featured political experts who rubbished the exit polls, with some even promising to ‘eat their hats’ if a Conservative sweep came true.

While British pollsters have admitted to their difficulties in contacting a truly representative sample of voters to extrapolate results, the UK media has now come up with the term ‘Shy Tories’ to explain the last minute swing to the Conservative party. The term refers to a set of voters who slam the Conservative party in public but instinctively vote for them behind the screen of a polling booth. The UK media is now blaming them for its inaccurate predictions.

SIMILARITY WITH MODI

The BBC’s narratives remind me of the coverage of 2014 Indian general elections, where Prime Minister Modi shocked the nation by leading the BJP to a sweeping victory. For 10 years, using much sharper language, other parties and NGOs targeted Modi with attacks mobilized on different media platforms, with varied references to Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler and communalism, but they could not keep him away from the
Gujarat CM or the PM’s chair.
Considering these two elections, in different countries, the question arises, is the television media more interested in reporting events with just the aim to mobilize news narratives entrenched in the public sphere? Is it interested in reporting events according to the clearly defined perceptions of political units and social groups, as opposed to facts that may crack those templates?

These polls show that the voter is not taking cues from the media, but is making his or her decision via a diverse exposure from TV, press, social media, word of mouth and gut-feeling.

In Britain, the template for the Conservatives is that they are pro-rich and anti-working class, the section of society that the Labour party has championed for decades. In India, the BJP’s template is that it is anti-minority and communal. The above question was clearly answered when church vandalism cases in the capital and other places across the nation took centrestage. With the BJP at the Centre, the coverage focused not on the ‘threat’ but the ‘threat perception’ of minorities being under attack. The Opposition, activists and church politicians all had a field day pointing fingers at the government saying its worst fears about the BJP had come true.

The same narrative came to a grinding halt when police reports stated that all the cases were not linked but random acts of vandalism by miscreants – who did not belong to a specific community. But that report had no place in primetime, as it would go against the pre-established template used for reporting on the BJP. In fact even top journalists who are supposed to be unbiased, who adorn different TV debates, now have clear political leanings—no matter how many times they claim to have seen the ‘ground reality’.

These elections, if not general TV media coverage has shown that there is a significant disconnect between the opinions and analysis of TV news and the mindset of the average voter. But, it also shows that the voter is not taking cues from the media, but is making his or her decision via a diverse exposure from TV, press, social media, word of mouth, gut-feeling and so on. TV news no longer frames public opinion, but feeds off public opinion, sparked after tossing in an informational grenade, with Twitter becoming its favorite laboratory.

Television news media always appeals to political parties to ‘introspect’ after an election defeat to maintain or re-gain credibility. Media channels should take their own advice, only if they are interested in credibility.

Ayushman Jamwal works at the foreign desk, CNN-IBN.