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As The Race For Bihar Heats Up, The Responsibilities That I Want The Media To Uphold

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By Salman Faheem

The Election Commission of India declared the election dates for Bihar on 14th September, an election which Chief Election Commissioner Naseem Zaidi has termed as the “mother of all elections“. It is to be conducted in five phases, starting from 12th October, and the results are to be announced on 8th November. Every tea-stall, canteen, office and home in Bihar as well as India will be echoing with the same tune, which was being played during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 – ‘Modi Magic’, Sushasan, Grand Alliance, etc.

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While all the politicians would be vying to prove to the common man that their respective party is winning, there would be another similar contest between all the news channels to flaunt opinion polls, surveys, etc, asserting that their respective surveys are 100 percent correct. Now, there is very little understanding and a great deal of ambiguity about whether these news channels and their respective opinion polls are biased or unbiased, correct or incorrect.

The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 proved how much impact media has on the outcome of an election. In the 2014 elections, Times Now-CVoter predicted 200+ seats for the BJP and less than a hundred for the Congress party. It also predicted that no single party would be able to form the government. While the former claim turned out to be true when BJP came out victorious and Congress was reduced to 44 seats, the latter appeared contradictory as BJP with 282 seats easily formed the government. Opinion polls are a very fine tool to analyse the support base of a political party and the chances of it winning or losing the election. With polls being influenced so heavily by political opinion, the question arises whether these opinion polls are free from political interference, ulterior motives, and biases. The question is whether such polls are used by politicians to create a wave of support or opposition. The question altogether is on the credibility of opinion polls.

It is often observed that some news channels forecast a sure win for a party in their opinion polls while others predict a certain defeat for the same party in theirs. This in general displays the hypocrisy of today’s media, which I believe is the result of intimate relationships shared between media houses, corporates, and politicians. Now these opinion polls don’t bother people who have already made up their mind to vote for their respective parties, but it has a very notable and enormous effect on people who tend to go by the ‘wave’, often termed as ‘Lahar‘. These people don’t have any criteria for voting and blindly vote for the candidate who is successful in creating his/her ‘wave’. Media is responsible for the image of a person and they can in no time portray someone as a hero or a villain. It plays a very crucial role in changing and influencing the thought process of these people and they very much do as seen in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.

The Wave factor is nothing but an amalgam of media image, activity on social media, combined with a positive opinion poll and various other factors which have nothing to do with development or agendas of the common public. The ‘NaMo Wave’ is a perfect example of this phenomenon where people didn’t vote for a party or its agendas and were more or less swept and deluged by the NaMo Wave. In the 2014 general elections people didn’t vote for BJP, they voted for Narendra Modi who was portrayed as the epitome of development and growth. All opinion polls, in general, showcased him as the most liked candidate for the post of the Prime Minister although he had no prior experience of national politics and hadn’t held a central ministry earlier. For Bihar, the media would certainly play an important role in deciding the share of votes for a candidate, their party, and indirectly the outcome of the election.

Visuals can be deceptive, and our ability to infer a particular image differs from person to person. We Indians have an uncanny ability to form an opinion on what we see, without being aware of the facts. It is, therefore, the responsibility of media to not misuse its position. Media should clearly ascertain the facts behind an opinion poll, the sample size of people surveyed, the way the responses were recorded and framed into a percentage. There should be a clear mention of how many people were surveyed and what the extent of the opinion poll in terms of area, population, and other parameters is. It should abide by their oath of transparency and telecast opinion polls only after their credibility has been assured.

The ethics of journalism clearly state that media should be free from bias and should have no inclination towards any group, party, ideology, etc. The Bihar election in some aspects would be a test for the media too. In my opinion, it is on the broad shoulders of media to assess and present the true picture of a party and its candidates. Instead of focussing too much on opinion polls, they should throw some light on the candidates, their qualification, their track record, criminal cases, etc. Politicians visit their respective constituency only at the time of elections and so do reporters, sadly. It is the responsibility of the media to visit these very constituencies after the elections too and present a ground report annually or biannually so that people are aware of the real situations. That way opinion polls will be required less because then people would know beforehand who has done work for them and who is entitled to their precious votes. I have no qualms with opinion polls, but for a country like India where media is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy, it is imperative for them to go beyond such polls and raise valid points and arguments that would help the common man in choosing a good and able government.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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