November , 2017
Gujarat election: media need to balance primary and secondary information
15:54 pm

Buroshiva Dasgupta

Media’s election coverages, in many cases, start with the reporter asking the car driver in which he travels - ‘what is the scene?’-  and then, sometimes unfor-tunately, ends there. There was a story, almost convincingly circulated among media people, that a famous reporter wrote and filed stories on the Bangladesh war from Park Circus. Such stories may be apocryphal, but that indicates the superficial and often uninformed coverages un-dertaken by the media reporters. Together with this, is added the present scourge of bias and fakery of the social media.

The impending Gujarat election – which is supposed to be a crucial test for the BJP that has consecutively won last five elections there since 1995 – is quite obviously drawing a lot of media attention. ‘The Hindu’ coverage begins with the familiar interview of the car driver, but mercifully goes much beyond it. It identifies three young forces – emerging from the Patidars, OBCs and Dalits – which is queering the pitch for the BJP.  Media reports  should be good at firsthand information – as opposed to secondhand data relied upon by academics and researchers – and the Hindu report complies with it, as the reporter talks to  almost all representatives of political parties to get their views. But what is the harm in delving into secondary data of past elections? It gives depth to the coverage and makes it convincing. The Hindu reporter does deal with secondary data and gives some details of the population support for the three different groups coming together in their fight against BJP. There is a science of analyzing elections (commonly termed as psephology) which will go into population voting patterns of each block panchayats before coming to any conclusions about results. In these days of ‘big data’, why will not the media reporters take recourse to such skills of analysis? India is a place where data and its preservation seem always at a discount and for a common man to lay his hands on never so easy. The rules have to change at source.

Ground level first hand observation, of course, is an important source of information. Gujarat has wonderful roads; and the industries, alongside the highways – unlike in West Bengal - are all alive and kicking. The physical opulence of the state is there for all to see. But deep down in caste-driven society (which is the flipside of Gujarat) there is a lot of dissention as the Hindu reporter has rightly pointed out. Talking to the common man would have further revealed the unhappiness over high prices of vegetables and everyday needs where GST or any other economic move could not produce any impact so far.Demonetisation can no longer hold the faith of small businessmen that it really will clean corruption.

The website also covers elections in an all-round manner. But most local and vernacular papers don’t. A survey done by two universities in West Bengal during the last Lok Sabha elections revealed how the media, specially the vernacular - has generally become ‘biased’ towards one political party or the other. Gujarat is no different. What is required is the new skills of reporters to balance primary ground level observation with a strong objective analysis of the secondary data available of all past elections. Availability of data has to be ensured. So has to be the the willingness of reporters to learn to go beyond mere observation.

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