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Elections and media’s accountability

By The Assam Tribune
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Shibdas Bhattacharjee

Standing with the people of Assam, highlighting their issues and concerns, informing them about the credibility of any political agenda, policies and promises will create a more hygienic atmosphere in this poll-bound State. The media is not assigned to measure the political maturity of the people of Assam. People will make their own choices.

Elections are the biggest festivals of democracy when the actual stakeholders of a nation decide about the future course of national life. This is the only occasion when the vote-seekers remain subdued before the masses. In the context of India, election is the only occasion when the people get an opportunity to appear as the most potential force. They ultimately choose or reject rulers, political agenda, policies and programmes. There always remains a gap between politicians and the masses in India for various factors. Hence, the importance of independent media becomes larger. This is the time in the political arena considering the upcoming Assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. High-pitched political campaigns are going on in all these five States. But the intensity of political campaigns is larger in Assam and West Bengal. New political equations have evolved in Assam and West Bengal. However, the basic reality is the same – the BJP is making all efforts to retain power in Assam and register a maiden victory in West Bengal. The Congress-AIUDF-Left alliance is trying to come into power in Assam, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee-led TMC is trying to retain power and along with BJP, the Left-Congress-ISF (newly formed Indian Secular Front led by Furfura Sharif’s influential cleric Abbas Siddiqui) combine is also making all efforts to come into power in Bengal.

Concisely, the activities in the political arena are confined in building strategy to win elections and this is very natural. Media naturally covers all these and there is nothing wrong in doing so. But the role of a section of media, both print and electronic, is quite disturbing at this point of time. This includes a section of print and electronic media of Assam as well.

This is true that all aspirant candidates in the fray know that their destiny is in the hands of the electorates, the heaving and staggering masses of Assam. This election is happening on the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme joblessness, apathy towards the farmers, GDP declining unprecedentedly and, above all, inflation, price rise and other disturbing trends of the economy. But how much are these issues getting prominence in the poll campaign? Politicians are not interested in discussing such issues. But the media can make all these issues a serious election agenda through raising these issues prominently with an independent and unbiased approach. But, unfortunately, the opposite is happening. Both the print and electronic media are giving priority to psephological analyses, opinion polls, predictions about election results and others. This gives much respite to the political parties, as they want the real issues to be buried under the election hurly-burly.

Similarly, the entire electronic media makes arrangements to cover every single political activity, ticket distribution, filing of nomination, roadshows, rallies and others. The role of social media is hard to ignore at this age. Here also, the credibility question arises. Awareness should be grown that million posts in different social media are tactical efforts to extend political agenda by a section and it is evident that the political parties are now regulating social media. There are innumerable Facebook and YouTube news channels active today. A close look at their selection of news items and views exposes the reality.

This raises the most embarrassing but important question: with whom does the media of Assam is standing these days, political parties or the masses? After all, political leaders remain in the limelight throughout the year. This is the time of the ordinary masses. A more important point for the media is to keep focus on issues related to mass concern. Pragmatic debates and discussions reveal the reality that contrasts the poll agendas of the political parties. Discussions on the success record of every political party in power in Assam on different occasions are relevant at this time of the hour. What matters is the credibility of someone who intends to represent the people. So also, discussions on election manifestos are necessary. The people should know every point of the election manifestos of different political parties before casting votes. This will create greater awareness among the people and provide them the opportunity to judge the credibility of the political aspirants. Media needs to highlight the aspects like repetitions in the poll manifestoes and how the political parties are tactically trying to save faces hyping on rhetoric. In this context, the media has a larger role to play, making people understand about the economic roadmaps of different political parties and their relevance considering the practical situation of Assam.

Another important point is: what substantive has been promised in the poll manifestos by the political outfits for the people of Assam this time. How much credible are the premises? What can people expect substantially from a political party if voted to power? All these are relevant points to report and analyse by the media than following the election rallies. A much better option for the media is to expose the real character of the politicians during election time with an unbiased approach. But are these reflected in the pages of the print media and the screen of electronic media of Assam?

It is true that the politicians can never purchase the vibrant media of Assam. But a disturbing trend is prevailing. A section of the media seems to be extending some particular political agenda to influence the voters. Today, the people of Assam identify different media houses of Assam as agents of different political parties. There are only a very few media houses in Assam that have been able to follow an unbiased approach. What can be more unfortunate? This shows the declining trend of media’s credibility in Assam which is not only unfortunate but also damaging, considering the independence of thought and expression. A vibrant media of Assam committed to ethics should be more vocal at this point of time. Along with exposing the so-called Godi media, the real issues of public discourse should be raised with prominence. A better option will be not to give any undue exposure to political activities.

Standing with the people of Assam, highlighting their issues and concerns, informing them about the credibility of any political agenda, policies and promises will create a more hygienic atmosphere in this poll-bound State. The media is not assigned to measure the political maturity of the people of Assam. People will make their own choices. Let them do so without making any effort to steward public opinion before an election. The media must not run after political narratives. The credibility of the media depends a lot on this as it proves the media’s accountability as the fourth pillar of democracy.

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