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Aayush Soni
Media Minutes

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

The many faces of farcical election reporting

ver the last few days, John Oliver, an American comedian, has spoken my mind. In an 8:44 minute video clip that's received over 900,000 hits on YouTube, Oliver punctured the media's coverage or, rather, non-coverage of the Indian election season. He hilariously skewers an ignorant American panelist wondering why India's elections should be of concern to his country's media, Arnab Goswami's daily shoutfests on Times Now and CNN-IBN's incorrect "A Billion Votes" caption when, in fact, there are just over 800 million eligible voters in India.

Oliver's viral YouTube video highlights how frivolous, irritating and annoying media coverage has been of this year's general elections. The Times of India's politics pages have been renamed Dance of Democracy — as if the entire country is preparing for a nine-phase dance-off rather than a marathon election process. Farooq Abdullah's silly comment, that those who voted for Narendra Modi must jump into the sea, popped up on my phone as an NDTV alert almost as quickly as his public meeting ended. Every time Beni Prasad Verma, our eloquent and dignified Steel Minister, and Baba Ramdev open their mouths, TV channels and newspapers hang onto their every word. Subramanian Swamy, whose statements divorce logic the moment they exit his mouth, has appeared on TV more often than he has at public meetings.

A glance at the media over the last month-and-a-half would make you believe that there's nothing else happening in India. That somehow all the issues worth writing about have mysteriously disappeared and all the Indian citizen cares about is vote-shares, pre-poll surveys, voter turnouts and headline-grabbing statements. Therefore, every bulletin, edition, special show and issue should only be about this great pageant of Indian democracy — even if reportage descends into the valley of nausea beyond a point. So severe has been the onslaught of election reporting this time that even freelance journalists, who don't usually write about politics, have jumped into this chaos fearing, I suspect, a FOMO syndrome — fear of missing out.

I don't mean to demean the value of elections and, to an extent, I do see the point of journalists — freelancers and full-timers — in grabbing a slice of the reporting pie. But, by submitting to this herd mentality, it seems the media has forgotten (or deliberately omitted?) a sentiment so central to its functioning: overkill. As a result, we now have to endure stories of how Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is in India to vote after 13 years, his itinerary in the country and his never-heard-before views on Jagdish Bhagwati, accompanied by a photograph of him flashing his inked finger.

It's not as if there's a dearth of legitimate election-related news that needs following up. On May 1, Sevanti Ninan, in her excellent media column for Mint, pointed out how the BJP plans to make serious changes to FDI policies related to the media. Should it come to power, the piece said, the party will reverse the current policy of permitting FDI in print media and shrink foreign investment in non-news media from 100 to 20 %. Five days ago, Milind Deora and Sanjay Nirupam, the Congress candidates from South Bombay and North Bombay respectively, found themselves accused of indulging in paid news. Not a single TV channel, website, newspaper or magazine has conducted a detailed investigation into these developments, which directly affect the functioning of the media. Instead, what do we have to endure? That Beni Prasad Verma, that monument to dignified speech, was issued a notice by the Election Commission and that Narendra Modi thought of Priyanka Gandhi as his daughter (a statement which she naturally rebutted). All it takes is a bit of help from Google, some old-fashioned reporting chops, muting politicians' silly swipes and you'll have a legitimate election news story that readers/viewers will invest themselves in.

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