Karnataka election: TV channels peddling false narratives must be held accountable or Indian democracy will pay price
Why can TV media get away with its spectacular failure to project the correct picture and indeed, by spreading a false story that BJP won enough seats to form Karnataka government?
On the morning of 15 May, 2018, Indian media, especially TV stations and their eager beaver anchors jumped the gun. I watched Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman shoving sweets into eager mouths and pontificating about divisive politics and their rejection by the electorate.
By lunchtime, as the more conservative news sites held back from the final results (including Firstpost) the convincing cacophony from the TV stations lent credence to the suspicion that these sites were lagging far behind the genius on display on high definition screens. Screaming and shrill debates had already started and the geese on every panel were dutifully doing their squawking.
What was wrong with these internet news sites that they could not keep up? How could there be such a lag? Channel after channel was going bananas over the BJP’s victory. Even BJP chief Amit Shah introduced Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the man of the hour, who went on to say how grateful and humbled he was. Editorial writers and opinion makers had already began their acerbic takes on the death of the Congress, and rightly so.
Soon after lunch, the dwindling began. Frozen at 64 seats and mocked outrageously by TV stalwarts the Rahul Gandhi Congress ice cube began to defrost. The numbers began inching up, albeit incrementally. And at the same time — like a mouse nibbling at the hem of a skirt — the BJP’s magic figure of 114 began to tread down.
What was going on? It was all over. According to the TV, the fat lady had sung, the Modi’s juggernaut had crossed the finishing line. What on earth was this? As the dynamics changed, and the Congress hit 78 while the BJP fell to 104, the sharing of sweets became the prerogative of the 38-seat JD(S) as it strutted about, and acted as if it won the laurel wreath. Which, in an odd way, it had.
The question that now arises in a democracy is not whether the Congress and JD(S) will make an unholy alliance, strange bedfellows have always marked Indian politics, but why TV media can get away with so much deception and still be unapologetic and unaffected by its spectacular failure to project the correct picture and indeed, by its presumption in spreading a false story that BJP won enough seats to form Karnataka government.
If this was a print publication, it would not have just been castigated for incompetence, but egg would be smeared on its face and it would be made accountable. Heads would have rolled, inquiries would have been held, and culpability would be established.
But TV stays unfazed. Its fleeting nature allows it to play merry hell with the news and even create it: If it finds that creation marketable. The dexterity with which the narrative is changed without so much as an "oops, we goofed up" would be amusing if it wasn’t so frighteningly casual and uncaring.
Herein lies the danger for and from Indian TV channels. In the name of freedom of the press, it is now becoming a government unto itself and is running amok. For now, it may still be in the realm of entertainment but when you cannot depend on it for the truth, you have to ask: What price do we pay as a nation for the lie?
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