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Media Bias In Gujarat Elections: An Analysis Of Hashtags Used By TV Channels

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Indian media has gone on an overdrive from the time that the Election Commission announced the dates of the Gujarat elections. It is not unexpected with Gujarat being Prime Minister Modi’s home state and his much-touted Gujarat model of development. Alt News has analyzed the hashtags promoted by TV channels to build social media engagement. Although channels like NDTV, India Today and CNNNews18 selected neutral hashtags like #GujaratElection2017, #BattleForGujarat, #ElectionsWithNews18 and #AssemblyElections2017, others like RepublicTV and Times Now picked hashtags that were strongly opinionated. They used these hashtags to campaign and shape public opinion for or against the political parties in the fray. Read on to see the blatant partisan position taken in the attempt to influence popular opinion in favor of the ruling party.

Other than an occasional neutral hashtag like #BattleForGujarat or #GujaratBattleground, the hashtags used by RepublicTV and Times Now betrayed a clear agenda. In a war for the louder and the more outrageous hashtag, any debate on issues affecting the common people took a backseat.

Here are some of the common themes that emerged in the review of the hashtags:

Attack Congress

Congress remained a constant target of attack by hashtags of both RepublicTV and Times Now. Hashtags like #CongNeechPolitics accused it of playing politics whereas those like #CongSlamsIndiaRise and #CongTerrorPhoto attempted to portray it as anti-development and anti-national. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an election rally in response to the Congress party that he had sold tea but not the nation, Times Now parroted the same with the hashtag #UPANeDeshBecha.

The first tweet of Republic TV on the hashtag #CongNeechPolitics asked the question whether Rahul Gandhi will act against Mani Shankar Aiyar for ‘Neech remark’. Rahul Gandhi’s action however did not deter the channel from continuing to use the hashtag. What followed was over 150 tweets by Republic using this hashtag including a list of which Congress leader insulted Narendra Modi and when. The channel called it a “direct classist attack on PM Modi by a superannuated member of the Lutyens Circuit” and announced that “The battle has now become between the rich elite and those they call ‘Neech’’.

Not to be left behind, Times Now called it #RahulNeechPolitics with an equal number of tweets.

Times Now also focused on the “self-goals” of Congress. It was #CongChaiSelfgoal after the Youth Congress tweet and #RaGaSomnathSelfGoal, after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Somnath Temple. Disposal of Teesta Setalvad’s plea for reasons known to Times Now became a #CongTeestaSelfgoal. Needless to say, when it came to BJP, there were no self-goals.

The hashtag #CongIgnoredPatel built on the popular right-wing narrative and accused Congress of ignoring Patel.

Finally, when all else fails, bring in Robert Vadra. Republic TV followed this mantra on the last day before the second phase of the polls with #VadraEntersGujaratPolls. “In what capacity was Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law meeting Hardik Patel?” Asked Republic TV in what it called an “agenda setting newsbreak a day before Gujarat votes.

Portray Congress As Anti-India

Rahul Gandhi’s jibe on Gujarat model and ease of doing business ratings was reported by Republic TV with the hashtag #CongSlamsIndiaRise. One day after the elections were announced, Republic TV ran the hashtag #PakHawalaUnderCongress

Rahul Gandhi’s remark saying PM Modi’s Gujarat model has failed was debated on Times Now as #RahulVsIndiaRising

The unsubstantiated and unverified claim of PM Modi about Pakistan hand in Gujarat elections was reported by Republic TV with the hashtag #PakCongMeeting even after fact checks by multiple media outlets raised doubts about it.

Times Now was not far behind by digging out a 2013 photograph of Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the same room as Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Zaeef and presenting it as an exclusive newsbreak with the hashtag #CongTalibanTango. Read more about this desperate attempt by Times Now in this Alt News story.

Ridicule Rahul Gandhi

Any doubts about which party Times Now actively campaigned for can be laid to rest with a quick look at its hashtags mocking Rahul Gandhi. When Gujarat state Election Commission raised objection on the use of word ‘Pappu’ in advertisements, Times Now called it #PappuCensored and even carried a poll on it.

When the poll panel cleared BJP’s Gujarat advertisement with the word ‘Yuvraj’, Times Now reported it as #YuvrajReplacesPappu which soon turned into #PappuBanaYuvraj.

A deliberate misinterpretation of Congress Leader Mani Shankar Aiyer’s remark contrasting the Mughal rule to the democratic process of elections by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was played to the hilt by Republic TV with the hashtag #RahulMughalEmperor. Even after the lie was called out and the full video of Aiyar’s statement surfaced, Republic TV continued with its hashtag and coverage. You can read more about this deliberate distortion here.

Rahul Gandhi’s press conference was presented by Republic TV as #RahulDucks. Arnab Goswami had some profound questions to ask “Why did Rahul Gandhi get up three times in midst of questions to end the briefing?” and Why was Ashok Gehlot passing notes to Rahul Gandhi while sitting to his right?” 

Republic TV tried every trick in the trade to run down the press conference and build public opinion against Rahul Gandhi. Here is a poll it ran on the topic.

Attack Leaders Who Have Collaborated With Congress

The attack did not stop at Congress and its leaders. It extended to all those who opposed BJP. The so-called sex tape of Hardik Patel was a topic of incessant debate with hashtags like #HardikTapeTrouble #HardikTapes and #GujaratSexScandal.

Times Now labeled Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani as #TheCasteCowboysand also promoted the hashtag #RahulHardikTango

A picture of Jignesh Mewani, receiving a cheque from members of SDPI, the political front of the PFI led to the hashtag #CongTerrorPhoto“Rahul visits temple for votes, ally signs terror pact for notes”, read the text on the screen along with the reference to “Hindu haters”.

Play The Religion Card

As they say, when all else fails, play the religion card. Both Republic TV and Times Now did just that at regular intervals.

Republic TV wanted to know #RahulHinduOrCatholic when the news broke about his name being entered in the non-Hindu register at the Somnath temple. Without a basic fact check, the channel went berserk in its reportage of the incident. You can read more about this bogus controversy here. In its ridiculous coverage, Republic TV aired Arnab Goswami’s five questions to Rahul Gandhi over his religion.

Even CNN News18 that usually shies away from using strong language unlike the other two jumped into the debate with #RaGaSignatureRow and the question “Will India know if RaGa is a Hindu, Christian or an Atheist?”

(image via NewsLaundry)

Republic TV accused Congress of playing the Muslim card with the hashtag #CongMandirLie.

Build The Image Of BJP And Narendra Modi

When the channels were not busy attacking the opposition, they were building the image of BJP and Prime Minister Modi. A fine example of this is the hashtag #GujaratGaaliPolitics that was promoted with posters claiming “PM destroys #GujaratGaaliPolitics” and “PM corners Congress on Gaali Politics”.

Rebuttals of PM Modi to Congress had dedicated hashtags like #SoldChaiNotNation and #UPAnedeshbecha.

On Oct 25th, the day election dates were announced, Times Now shared the results of its ‘TimesNow – VMR’ survey with the hashtag #GujaratModiVerdict. Using the hashtag #ModiSweepsGujarat, the channel asked “Is Rahul still a liability for the party?” and claimed to “predict accurately the results before the verdict”.

Interestingly it was only one-sided slander during the Gujarat elections that was noticed by Times Now and PM Modi was portrayed as a victim with the hashtag #ModiMalignedIn2017. Any remark or attack by Congress had a dedicated hashtag like #CongChaiwalaAttack#RahulNeechPolitics but attacks by BJP either went completely unnoticed or were actively supported.

Republic TV was the cheerleader for BJP’s election campaign, tweeting with hashtags #BJPGujaratBlitzkrieg and #ModiMillionRally

PM Modi’s seaplane ride had dedicated hashtags like #ModiAirShow and #PMTakesOff and was touted as the “first-ever seaplane in India”. Though PM’s own website has made the correction that it was not a first-ever in India, the Republic story is still online.

Republic TV went overboard in cheerleading calling it “historic” and “the greatest political prop in India’s history”. Chitra Subramaniam, Advisor to Republic responded to criticism saying “I think it’s remarkable, PM taking off was very symbolic. But they will crib, because Narendra Modi’s cardinal sin is that he was born ‘poor’”. The choice of hashtag by Republic TV was interesting because at the same time the channel was running #PMTakesOff and #RahulDucks.

Along with building the image of PM Modi, he was also portrayed by both channels as a victim with hashtags like #ModiFaithAttacked and #RahulHateModiBrigade

Focus On Everything But Development

At all times, attention was diverted from real issues facing the people and focused on matters like #GujaratTemplePolitics, #MuslimQuotaPlot, #RahulSeparatistBhakt, and #ModiAttacksRahulBhakt.

We also saw hashtags on #AnthemFirstNoCompromise, #BJPISISCharge, #ISISGujaratPlot, #ChurchVsNationalists and #RahulHinduTerrorCable.

Here is a list of hashtags relating to Gujarat elections promoted by the two channels since Oct 25th:

Is it too much to expect the fourth pillar of democracy to play a responsible role by debating the stand of political parties on critical issues that affect the people of Gujarat? There was not a single hashtag relating to economic issues or development. What we saw instead was sections of media taking a blatantly partisan position and using hashtags to manipulate public opinion in favor of one party. There was also a clear attempt to define the narrative of the election on communal issues in an attempt to distract the citizens from focusing on and questioning political parties over their position on issues of socio-economic significance.

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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.

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