Elections 2019: Media Coverage in Jharkhand

Dr. Dev Vrat Singh:

Jharkhand, the second poorest state in India, has 14 parliamentary constituencies of which 12 were bagged by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. But this time it is not easy to speculate who will prosper. Land acquisition by the state government and the corporate sector has been a major issue in the past decade in Jharkhand. Recently, pathalgarhi in many districts caused extreme unrest among villagers. Muslims and Christians are two large minority groups in the state. Many incidents of mob-lynching, arrests of Christian activists and restricting foreign grants for dozens of Christian NGOs are impacting sentiments of these groups. Besides, local issues like employment generation claims by the state government, water, electricity and road construction may figure in big ways in deciding the mood of voters. Issues like national security and nationalism and Modifactor may matter to the urban middle class, but in villages where poor and largely illiterate people are living in extreme poverty with little media access — local issues, interests, identities and concerns will undoubtedly be important deciding factors.

Media in Jharkhand: In Jharkhand, while some English dailies likeThe Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Pioneer, The Telegraph and The Hindu enjoy significant circulation, only The Pioneerhas a complete Ranchi edition, the rest have satellite editions and so give limited space to local news. Prabhat Khabar is the leading Hindidaily in the state, the other important ones being Hindustan, Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran. Jharkhand being a Hindi speaking state, Hindi newspapers give extensive coverage to local issues in comparison to English dailies. Circulation-wise too, Hindi newspapers are far ahead of English dailies. English papers have circulation predominantly in the four big cities Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bokaroand Dhanbad, where corporate executives, bureaucrats, political leaders and educated upper caste urban Hindu elite and middle class reside. A few local news portals have also come up, like dainikjagran.com, newswing.com, newscode.com, smridhjharkhand.com and publicbol.com. These news portals are uploading lots of news content regarding parliamentary elections and getting large number of views from voters on their smartphones. Affordable rates of internet data on mobile phones have convinced most print newspapers to launch their apps. As for electronic media, Doordarshan’s regional channel, News 18 Bihar-Jharkhand, Kashish News, News 11, Naxatra are some TV channels commanding sizeable viewership.

Media coverage: Most leading Hindi newspapers are publishing good quantity of content on the elections by dedicating one or two pages daily. Articles, features, news analyses are being brought out on election history in Jharkhand that include informative backgrounders supported by visuals, cartoons and info-graphics about constituencies or leaders, although the material can get a bit repetitive sometimes. English newspapers are giving little space to the regional electoral scenario, except in publishing a few exclusives, focusing primarily on national election news. It seems these newspapers are only putting the spotlight on constituencies related to some ex-chief minister or celebrity leader. For instance, Khunti constituency is drawing more attention because ex-CM Arjun Munda is a candidate there. Coverage is more or less capital-centric too, with a subtle urban bias in selection of news. This has resulted in little coverage of areas which are distant and lesser known. In the age of district editions, newspapers are focused on district headquarters, seeming to care little about events in villages and other districts. Instead of creating issue-based electoral discourse, the news coverage is more about political statements by rival leaders or parties. A few special correspondents of national dailies visiting Jharkhand in the run-up to elections are doing exclusive reports from the hinterland. Journalists accept they are under pressure, revenue compulsions ensuring that they give priority to government officials or the dominant political party.

A lot of content is being shared on platforms like WhatsApp. Local news portals are putting up less text and more small video clips. Most such portals and news sites are run by bare minimum staff; they prepare their content with smartphones. The reporter records a small bite of a leader or a small clip of any event and shares it with a brief text description. News sites share their content through WhatsApp groups to raise their visibility among masses. One such group is Breaking Live with an extensive membership of journalists, bureaucrats, policymakers, NGO workers, academicians etc. On average, 30 news links are shared by various news sites in this group. This way, the news now breaks on smartphones first and voters have more diversity of content to decide before they choose their government in the ongoing parliamentary elections.


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