Mainstream media finds corruption irrelevant in Karnataka elections!

An impression is being sought to be made by the English language electronic mainstream media (MSM) about the incumbent party BJP’s loss in the 2013 Karnataka elections in that it can be attributed to a large extent to the Yeddyurappa factor. In other words, BJP’s poor showing was due to the potential BJP votes that got split by former Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa’s newly formed party KJP which in turn helped Congress winning in seats where the BJP & Congress were in a direct fight. By repeatedly emphasizing on this aspect, the English language electronic MSM is trying to portray that corruption was a non issue in the recent polls and that BJP’s loss was due to its own making when it decided to sack Yeddyurappa as CM when he was facing allegations of corruption; a move that eventually led to Yeddyurappa quitting the BJP and forming his own party, KJP.

I consider that argument in this short post and come to the conclusion that it is a huge leap of faith to ascribe a great degree of explanation to the Yeddyurappa factor. First up below are the statistics from the 2008 Karnataka elections sourced from the reports of Election Commission of India (ECI) that show the vote share percentage by parties (national & state) & independents.

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The above figures show that BJP’s vote share in 2008 was 33.86% while that of Congress and JD-S were 34.76% and 18.96%.

Similar data is not yet available from the ECI so I rely here on the information procured from Twitter that claims that the respective figures in 2013 for the BJP, Congress,JD-S and KJP are 19%,  42%, 23% and 4%.

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A comparison of the vote shares from these two elections show that BJP’s vote share has gone down by a whopping 14% points (from 33.86% to 19%) whereas the vote shares of Congress and JD-S have gone up by 7% points (from almost 35% to 42%) and 4% points (from 19% to 23%)  respectively. KJP’s vote share in this election is 4% and one can infer that the BJP votes that were split and lost by the presence of Yeddyurappa’s KJP is 4%. So, that means that a united BJP probably would have lost 10% points (discounting KJP’s 4% vote share that was lost).

Given this significantly large data point of 10% points, I find it difficult to come to the conclusion that Yeddyurappa could have been such a spoiler for BJP that would drag BJP from being the ruling party to the number 3 party (behind JD-S). Certainly, corruption as an issue would definitely have influenced the voting decision. It seems too supercilious to suggest that the damage was done in large part by the Yeddyurappa factor even when one accounts for the strong casteist influences that unfortunately come into play in Indian elections. One would need a seat level analysis to make a strong statement like the one that the MSM has been making in relation to the KJP and BJP. From what I have seen of their analysis while being “on the go”, I would be tempted to believe that it was just a foolhardy attempt by the media to take the focus away from what is definitely going to be the main election planks in 2014; corruption and misgovernance.

Update: 9 May: A newsarticle in the Times of India today has come up with the seemingly final figure of vote shares. The following is the vote share: BJP (20%, down by approx. 14% points), Congress (36.5%, up 1.75% points), JD-S (20.1%, up 1.1%) and KJP (9.8%, that’s an almost 6% points difference between the information I used from the Twitter). Given the almost 10% vote share garnered by the KJP (the potential BJP vote), it would definitely seem so that the Yeddyurappa factor did play a substantial role in BJP’s poor showing as the English Language electronic MSM had suggested. Though I must point that these numbers take time to be collated and compiled and no one came out with any initial numbers till late in the evening yesterday, so it was really quite the leap of faith on MSM’s part (not unlike mine when I relied on a tweet for my figures!) without all the facts in order to emphasise the Yeddyurappa factor that ultimately seems to explain the BJP’s loss. One could infer that only about 4% is the vote share lost by the BJP on account of corruption & other issues disaffecting the voters.

The final word: 13 May: After reading a few newspaper articles and doing my own analysis to understand the results of the Karnataka elections, I find this article has managed to accurately sum up what happened in Karanataka elections. The summary & conclusion of that article is below in italics.  And the same is supported by analysis of party vote shares overall as well as seat level analysis; Yeddyurappa did knock off the BJP from its ruling position thereby confirming one of the sad facts about deep rooted caste biases in Indian society. I can only hope that this is the case only at the local/regional level and corruption & misgovernance will be substantive issues at the national level.

On 8 May, our Prime Minister’s Office “faced its sharpest indictment in the Supreme Court” for interfering into the “Coalgate” investigation by the CBI, which was being done under its direct supervision. On the other hand, ebullient Congress political managers were easily brushing off these scams, flushed with the victory in the Karnataka elections (8 May). The fact that the BJP lost Karnataka by changing their Chief Minister whose government was notorious for corruption but in that process earned his powerful community’s wrath, would compel them to rethink whether anti-corruption drive, divorced from caste politics, is a good electoral strategy at all. This is the essential problem in India.

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Will Katju sort out press media’s priorities: Case of SC judgments on Bombay 1993 blasts

On 21 March 2013, the Supreme Court gave its judgmentin the various appeals by the accused who were convicted on 12 September 2006 by a specially designated TADA court for their role in the 1993 Bombay serial bombings. The SC largely upheld the TADA court convictions while diluting a few sentences from death to life imprisonment (like for a majority of the 10 bomb planters who were sentenced along with Yakub Memon to death) or reducing the years of imprisonment. Importantly, the Supreme Court also confirmed the convictions of the Government officers (customs officers, police officers) whose cooperation ensured that the arms, ammunitions and explosives sent by Tiger Memon landed on the coast in Raigad district & were transported to their destination in Bombay without any intercepton, discovery & detention. In addition, the Supreme Court also condemned the key role of Pakistan and ISI in the 1993 Bombay blasts.

However, based on the front page headlines of leading English newspapers, one could be excused in thinking that Sanjay Dutt’s role in the aforementioned blasts was somehow more important than those of the many others convicted. Sample these front page headlines of 22 March 2013 (day after the SC judgments) from India’s leading English Language newspapers and what they mentioned about the various parties connected to the blasts.

Newspaper Front page Headlines Customs Police Pakistan
The Times of India- Mumbai edition Bees Saal Baad: SC gives Sanjay 5 yrs, Yakub death, spares 10 the gallows, puts Pak in doc Cops, customs feel the heat Cops, customs feel the heat In a first, SC indicts Pak for fostering terrorism
Hindustan Times- Delhi edition Sanju heads back to jail, Yakub to gallows No mention No mention SC slams Pakistan, ISI
The Indian Express- Mumbai edition Dutt gets 5 years, Yakub death No mention No mention No mention
DNA-Mumbai edition Errorist gets 5 years, Terrorist gets death No mention No mention No mention
The New Indian Express- (Bangalore edition) SC sends Dutt back to Jail No mention No mention No mention

While every single one of them mentions the convictions of Sanjay Dutt & Yakub Memon (with the exception of The New Indian Express that only mentions Sanjay Dutt!), only The Times of India mentions the convictions of the 10 bomb planters, customs officials, police officers and the role of Pakistan & ISI in the serial blasts; the rest were silent about the equally significant convictions of the customs officers (& police officers) without whom, in SC’s words, “they would not be in a position to smuggle the weapons required for the said blasts” that killed 257 and seriously injured 713. Nevermind the fact that it was the first ever terrorist attack where RDX (Research Department Explosive) was used on a large scale basis after the World War II; nevermind the fact that these coordinated blasts were the most destructive bomb explosions in Indian history with unprecedented damage to life and property; nevermind the fact that this was the longest running trial in India’s history that ended with convictions of key parties that were involved in the serial bombings, India’s leading English newspapers were fixated on Sanjay Dutt who was not even convicted under TADA act (under which the rest of the accused were convicted) but under the arms act for possession of arms without license. How the actor got out of the conviction under the TADA act is another story altogether detailed here. The summary above that shows very clearly the low importance and salience given through the front page headlines and mentions to the full context of the judgments is quite disappointing.

The media, especially the news media have an important role to play in a democracy by monitoring, investigating, reporting and criticizing government’s policies, actions and their progress so as to ensure good governance. Also, they inform the public about what are the important issues by their selection and coverage (or lack of it) of various events/issues. As Bernard Cohen said “Press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling readers what to think about”. This aspect of media is known as the agenda setting function of the media. In this case, the media (including the press) diverted the agenda from important issues relating to these convictions and instead is relentlessly pursuing the agenda on Sanjay Dutt’s conviction thereby trivializing the outcome of the long, tardy & painful judicial process.

Given the importance of this case, the media could have chosen to explore any number of angles and thus set the agenda for the public in relation to how it would serve the interests of democracy and good governance in India in as far as national security & other related matters of public interest are concerned. For instance, the media could have explored the role of corrupt & incompetent government officials (police/customs/coast guards) in sabotaging national security and the current state of preparedness and readiness to deal with similar events. It could also have explored the sad state of our judicial system that took such an inordinately long time to deliver justice and bring closure to the families of the victims of the blasts. It possibly could have looked at the role of underworld elements/Pakistan in destabilizing our nation. But no, our news media including the press choose to run along with the story relating to the most high profile of the convictions, that of Sanjay Dutt, to the detriment of damaging a narrative that could have been used to resurrect a public debate to seek answers about the efficiency and readiness of our national security systems that have failed with alarming regularity to protect the lives of our fellow countrymen.

What makes this episode even more disappointing is the silence of Markendaya Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) whose objective and function it is,among others,

“to ensure on the part of newspapers, news agencies and journalists, the maintenance of high standards of public taste and foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship”

to keep under review any development likely to restrict the supply and dissemination of news of public interest and importance”

“to encourage the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism”

Katju thus far, for whatever reasons, seems either blissfully unaware or unconcerned about his responsibilities in as far as the above mentioned objects and functions of the PCI are concerned. I say this, since as of now, there is no comment from him even mentioning the poor display of the performance of the press as an institution supposed to keep foremost matters relating to the public interests & importance. The PCI, via Katju, doesn’t seem to be interested in attempting to achieve the first two above mentioned objects of the PCI above in a clear cut scenario whereby the press media has disastrously displayed its inability to do what is expected of them.

Katju has shown his concern about the lack of proper educational qualifications affecting the quality of journalists and their reportage that affects the quality of journalism. But he should know that journalists do not decide the public agenda; rather it is the people at the helm of affairs in media companies who do so.  For sometime now, there have been discussions on the social and online media highlighting this sad state of affairs of Indian mainstream media (including the press) detailing its poor and biased news reporting, reports of paid media, cases of opinions, half truths & lies dressed up as facts in reporting. Katju, then, should know that to improve the quality of journalism, the media outcomes need to be targeted which are controlled by the top bosses of these media companies. The focus should be on these media worthies rather than the hapless entry/mid level journalist attempting to make a career in a perverse environment set up by these top bosses that produces poor quality journalism.

We already know that Katju is an ambitious man; what remains to be seen is whether his ambition can be married with the cause of public interest and good governance in this country. I sincerely hope that he will focus his attention on his job as the chairman of PCI and delve deeply into the aforementioned matters. It is unfortunate that he chooses to spend more time on defending the cause of a private citizen who even in 2000, 7 years after the blasts, was in touch and was taking assistance from the underworld elements who have assaulted the rights of  this nation’s citizens to live without harm and fear.

Social advertisements prop up the Indian media

A tweet about the relatively tiny job advertisement for a major public sector company looking for the important post of Chairman and Managing Director got me thinking about the huge number of government newspaper ads (job ads, tenders, notices, government campaign ads) that I have been noticing in newspapers of late.

A Google search came up with this article in a business newspaper that reported ad trends in the ad world comparing snapshot numbers from 2001 and 2012.  The article reported TAM media research’s Adex data on ad volumes measured in seconds for TV and CCMs for print and sought to answer the following questions:

“Who are India’s biggest advertisers? Which are the product categories that dominate advertising spend and which media are they spending money on?”

The answer to India’s top product category by ad spend confirmed my observation about government newspaper ads and revealed more. The answers to the above questions of India’s biggest advertisers and top product categories by ad spend is illustrated below:

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As can be seen from the illustration above, it is “social advertisements” (ads related to social campaigns) in both print & TV that topped the category-wise advertisements in 2012. Social ads are essentially ads that typically serve the purposes of informing the public about the launch of a new welfare programme/project as well as reinforcing the benefits of an existing welfare programme while giving prominence to the benefactor (usually a political leader/government Minister/head of a public sector organization) usually by way of their mugshots.

The article also predicts that

“As social responsibility initiatives of companies increase and the government tightens its spending, the private sector’s contribution to social ad spends is expected to increase. So expect this category to maintain its presence at the top of the heap.”

Let me add to this prediction. The social advertisements category is going to remain at the top of heap for as long as a centre left government such as the current UPA dispensation stays in power. A government that pursues an active policy of redistribution through such populistic schemes as MGNREGA, cash transfer scheme will regularly keep reminding the public of its good work (even more so with the general elections just over an year away) through social advertisements that will also find its way on the digital media in addition to the current print and TV media routes. And also, as long as this social advertisements category and the government tenders/notice/job ads category (that is not covered in the TAM survey) exists, the media will continue to place government interests before the public interest for they know not to “bite the hand that feeds”.