Television news channels are busy pitting one candidate against the other and playing the ‘He-said’ vs ‘She-said’ game. Why, you ask? Because it is the election season in the country. It’s that time of the year when political parties count the number of ‘star campaigners’ in their party and if they don’t find any, they defect one from the opposition party. It is the time for rallies, road shows, campaigns, slogans and of course, a long list of sugar-coated lies. With West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Assam going for polls, the stakes are high.
Covering elections is a challenging task for journalists. Elections are the time when journalists get an opportunity to unearth the heartland of the country and give a reality check of the lives of the aam-aadmi (common man) to the rest of the country. While most of the news platforms are busy showing faces of politicians and their statements in every permutation and combination, it’s the stakeholder i.e. the common person, who is missing from the picture.
Although, in its truest sense, a journalist’s place is always on ground, elections are the time when their job become even more significant. Elections are the time when politicians begging for votes can be held accountable for their work of the past five years. It’s the time when tough questions in the interest of the common person can be posed directly.
It’s the time when news channels should leave the comfort of their air-conditioned studios and get to the ground, just like recently, when Newslaundry uncovered the story of a woman in West Bengal who got featured in a government advertisement in the newspapers, until it was found that the claims in the advertisement were nothing but a joke on her life. She lives in a rented house whereas the advertisement claimed that she owns a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna.
National English dailies have still managed to keep ground reporting in existence; they send their reporters not to chase news but cars. Well, not all hope is lost. The silver lining in this entire picture is the emergence of journalists on the internet. With bare minimal means to hit the ground, they have managed to keep journalism alive.
When ScoopWhoop Unscripted went to cover a small village on the outskirts of Nandigram that has survived cyclone Amphan and where people are still trying to build their lives from scratch, one wonders how many such villages have similar stories to tell. How many villages have people who expect nothing but basic means of survival from politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to?
When news channels resort to meaningless debates, their obliviousness to ground reality is inevitable. This fact is reaffirmed by the time when, after the results of Delhi Elections 2020, Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary ranted on his show for an hour about the residents of Delhi and their “selfish choice” in electing the Aam Aadmi Party. His rant was a reflection of his poor journalism, which lacks a touch with reality and is restricted to the walls of his air-conditioned studio.
There was an era in Indian journalism when journalists used to get assigned constituencies to cover. They used to study that place minutely and then report on it. It’s an irony that in today’s time, barely any news channel, or even newspaper, has a development beat in their newsroom. It seems like the mainstream media has forgotten that:
“The courage in journalism is sticking up for the unpopular, not the popular.”