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Media evades real issues – Balbir Punj on Daily Pioneer

Media evades real issues

As we complete the third phase of the Lok sabha election, it is turning out to be more about personalities than the people’s problems. That is, if we go by the media’s coverage of the election, especially that of the electronic media. It appears that certain stereotypes have taken over. If it is a BJP leader who is under the spotlight, then the entire coverage is about whether he or she has referred to the Ram Mandir issue or what is his or her opinion about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. If it is the Left that is getting air time, then the coverage is mainly about whether the Leftists will support a Congress-led Government. In case of the Congress, it is all about who says what about whom, and not what is being said about the problems facing the country.

Take for example the BJP’s election manifesto. It makes several far-reaching promises like one-rank-one-pension for ex-servicemen, tax-free income for serving armed forces personnel, low interest loans for farmers, waiver of farm loans, low-cost rice and wheat for Below Poverty Line families, etc. There is also an IT Vision Document that the party has produced which lists several innovative ideas to harness information technology for mass welfare. But no one in the media has bothered to question the BJP leaders about the issues raised in the manifesto and the vision document.

This is equally true for other parties and candidates in the electoral fray. No one has asked them about their plan of action with respect to Pakistan, or what their opinion is about the new US Administration or China’s tantrums over Arunchal Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party, for instance, has escaped serious questioning on its backward looking, neo-Luddite manifesto as all attention is focussed on Sanjay Dutt who is campaigning for the party. The SP manifesto says that it will restrict the use of computers and discourage English. Is the SP proposing to take us back to the Stone Age? Nobody has asked this question.

It is because of the sensationalist approach of the media that an impression has been created that the leaders of different parties are all engaged in mutual mud-slinging. The parties themselves could have helped the media refocus on serious issues had they accepted the BJP’s proposal to have a one-on-one debate between the Leader of the Opposition LK Advani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The debate need not have been confined to them alone. If such a debate had taken place it would have paved the way for many more, involving other party leaders and aspirants for the country’s top office. Such a nation-wide debate involving major political personalities, testing them on issues, would have had a tremendous mass impact. Had Mr Singh accepted Mr Advani’s suggestion, issues like the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and the confrontation between the Maoist-led Government and the Army in Nepal would have come to the forefront and voters would have got to know the exact position of the various parties.

In Bangladesh, the elected Government headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed is sitting on top of a volcano with Islamist forces getting restive with each passing day. On the other hand, the Chinese are tightening their hold over Tibet and leaving no stone unturned to embarrass India and intensify their penetration into the Indian Ocean. Yet, the media neither thinks it sensible to highlight these issues nor does it push for a political debate on them.

The so-called Muslim vote is another stereotype that the media pursues without thinking about the damage this will cause to the national psyche. This issue has been played up to such an extent that even those Muslims who believe that they should vote as Indians first are beginning to wonder whether they should not vote as Muslims first. The negative fallout of people voting along communal lines has been witnessed election after election. Yet the media goes on drumming up the issue of the so-called Muslim vote.

The only real issue that seems to be getting adequate air time is Sri Lanka. And that, too, because the regional parties in Tamil Nadu are tripping over themselves to come to the defence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Does support for the LTTE and Tamil Eelam serve India’s interest? The question would have been answered had there been serious debate on events in Sri Lanka.

Barring the BJP, the silence of other political parties on the imminent threat that we face from across the LoC is really intriguing. India should be the most concerned about the rise of the Taliban as this country is one of the biggest targets of the jihadis, and there is no dearth of local jihadi sympathisers like SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen. Yet, the rise of the Taliban is not an election issue.

Has the obsession of pseudo-secular parties to grab the largest chunk of Muslim votes pushed issues of national interest to the background? Why isn’t the media even trying to get the reaction of the leaders of the Muslim community to the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan? This indeed is a sad phase for our democracy.

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May 1, 2009 - Posted by | Current Affairs |

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