POV: To what extent has the media coaxed voting?

By Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | May 02, 2014
Apart from political parties and brands, several initiatives have also been launched by the media to encourage people to vote and to educate them about the political environment. afaqs! talks to experts to know if the media can take full credit for the higher voting percentage.

The General Election 2014 has been promoted extensively on multiple platforms. From television, to newspapers, radio, outdoor and social media, political parties have leveraged every possible medium to get more supporters. While their marketing efforts were noticeable, the initiatives of the media have not gone unnoticed, either.

From news channels to newspapers, mass media channels have made an unprecedented effort to create awareness about politics, especially for the youth, which forms a huge chunk of voters this time. While shows and columns have educated people about the political environment and encouraged them to make an informed choice, general entertainment channels have also highlighted the importance of each vote and pushed the audiences to exercise their right to cast a vote.

POV: To what extent has the media coaxed voting?

ABP News launched an elaborative marketing campaign promoting itself as the channel that had the answers to all election-related queries; Channel V launched 'Know your VQ' campaign that aims to make first-time voters well-acquainted with the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. Meanwhile, MTV launched 'Rock The Vote' to engage and build political power for the young people of the country; while 9XM launched a music video titled 'Who is The Idiot', implying people who don't vote are idiots. These are just to name a few. There has been a steady gush of election-related content on news and entertainment channels, propagating the importance of voting. The national event has also been integrated in the storyline of fiction shows such as Colors' Balika Vadhu, wherein the male lead, a doctor, is shown contesting in the election.

Brands are also participating in this noise by rolling out 'election-specific' campaigns. For example, Tata Tea's 'Jaago Re' and 'Power of 49' ad, and CRY's 'Vote for Child Rights' campaign. Brands such as Lakme, Wink at Vivanta by Taj - President, Mumbai, SMAAASH, GoAir, and Centuryply have encouraged it by giving discounts and special offers on their services if one shows the inked finger.

On social media, Facebook has launched a feature for its mobile users in India which allows people to post their voting stories on their Facebook timeline on the polling days of their respective constituencies.

P N Vasanthi

Mukesh Kumar

Ajay Upadhyay

N K Singh

All these things, along with the initiatives and activities by the Election Commission of India, have managed to pull voters to the polling booth, contributing to around 6-7 per cent growth in voting numbers so far. Though we don't have a fair comparison at this stage, according to experts, we are headed towards 8-10 per cent overall hike in the voter percentage this year.

While some go as far as to say the 2/3rds of the credit can be attributed to media alone, others say it merely played the role of an amplifier. Still others say the role of the media is as good as negligible. afaqs! talks to experts to know how much credit of the higher voting percentage can be given to the media.

P N Vasanthi, director, Center of Media Studies, New Delhi

I had done an analysis and realised that there was no correlation between the media and voting behaviour in the past few elections. Having said that, this election was different because I think there was a considerable effort not just by the ECI but by individual society groups and individuals on their own. For example, film stars and cricketers are coming out and taking pride in voting. I think this has contributed more. Media has been a multiplier of all these efforts but I would not say that it was the core component. If all these things had not happened, it (the media alone) would have not made any difference.

Media did play the very critical role of a multiplier but it was not sufficient. We needed those prodding and movement-based initiatives that ECI led in each city. There were rock shows, musical nights, performances, fairs and road shows that got people up and made a difference. These were multiplied by the media.

My analysis was on the news channels but it's worth mentioning that the kind of consistent messaging that is happening on entertainment channels this year is awesome. Not only are they giving out public service messages but are also integrating the thought in the story line. The various channels are taking different initiatives to encourage people to vote. For me, all of these are civil society activism - at all fronts. It's not the prerogative of only media but even if a person is an actor, or a channel head or a performer, he has gone out of the way to encourage people to vote. It has made a difference.

Mukesh Kumar, political analyst and former channel head, News Express

Media has played a vital role in this election and it's because the media and the Election Commission of India have worked together to run campaigns. Media has been actively encouraging people to vote and I don't deny that. It has also contributed in its own way but the rise in the voting percentage this year is more because of the work done at the ground level by the ECI. Since 2004, the ECI has been motivating people to cast their vote. Media has been encouraging its viewers to vote but it's their own PR exercise as it will fuel their viewership, get them more eyeballs. They have been doing their image building as one of the pillars of democracy.

Earlier, politics was considered bad but in the last two years, with Anna Hazare's movement, the youth has started getting involved and taking interest in politics. This is something that the media has taken note of. They have done a lot also because of the competition in the business. Having said that, for whatever reasons they have done all the activities, it's appreciated. However, it is the other factors including the better electoral roll, polling decision of ECI and youth's willingness to vote that have made a difference. Media used to create awareness, encourage people to vote earlier too, but now there has been a change in the society, mentality and political culture that has driven more people to the polling booths.

Ajay Upadhyay, election analyst

When T N Seshan became the chief of ECI in 1999, he activated the Election Commission and transformed it. Although the ECI appealed to voters, there was no major turnout. However, in the last two elections, political parties have also tried to create awareness and encourage people to vote. The ECI, too, has run campaigns and got support from NGOs, both working together to ask people to come out and vote. AAP made a lot of difference in the Delhi election. As far as the media is concerned, it has been noticeable to an extent that if you look at newspaper coverage of politics and coverage on why people should vote, there has been a significant increase in the latter.

Media has been playing a key role in educating people about the political parties, government and how to exercise the ballot. In my opinion, democracy is a daily exercise. Voters don't take a decision overnight but the things around them help make up their mind about how, who and where to vote. Media has been playing a significant role here. As over 50 per cent of the country has already cast its vote, there is an estimated increase of 6-7 per cent voters over last year. And, the media has contributed to 2/3rd of it. Meaning, whatever communication is happening, plus the coverage that elections and politics get, even the efforts of ECI and NGOs are communicated through the media. This is quite a considerable change! This is a history of democracy.

N K Singh, general secretary, Broadcast Editor's Association

There are a few things that determine the turnout at the elections. First is the credibility of the Election Commission. If people know that their votes are heading in the right direction and will not be tampered, they will trust the agency conducting the election. If people have that trust the election turnout will go up. In India in the past 20 years, ECI has got that credibility.

Second, people today know that they are going to elect a person/government that will deliver. That is the perception but more than that, the media has created an impression for strengthening a democracy by saying that people should vote. That is the role of media, to create a marketplace for competing ideas. Here, in this case, there is only one idea - if you vote you will strengthen democracy - that is the message which has headed home to the masses in a very right perspective. That being the role of media in galloping the election percentage is very significant and I think media must be credited for the turnout.

In Europe, which has a long experience in democracy that is by and large serving the people, the average turnout for voting is 69.4 per cent. If India is heading towards that (that is the kind of percentage India is expected to get this year), it will be a turning point. It will show that, firstly, media has played its role very well in creating the consciousness and secondly, the Indian electorate has faith in the democracy and particularly the electoral system. It is the responsibility of the news channels because they are the ones who create a marketplace for competing parties, they are the ones who create collective consciousness of the society, they give them volume of information, develop logic power and that is how democracy is strengthened.

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