Watch Nidhi Razdan: Indian media’s moment of reckoning is here Video Credit: Gulf News

On the morning of the election results in India on June 4, 2024, a well known English television anchor was having a meltdown before counting had even begun. He was busy berating all those who “were living in delusion for the last 10 years” that Modi-led government had the overwhelming “love and trust” of the people of India.

This comment was based purely on the exit polls which had predicted a landslide win for the ruling BJP, with some even showing the ruling alliance NDA crossing the 400 mark.

Of course, only a few hours later it was clear that while the BJP was coming back, it had suffered a huge setback and would be in a minority.

BJP was going to need the support of allies to form a government. The results proved all the exit polls wrong and smashed their credibility to smithereens.

Suddenly, the news anchors were more chastened and speechless. What could possibly have gone wrong, they wondered? And this sums up the story that is the legacy media.

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A credibility crisis

A media which has spent the last decade crawling before the powers that be, that has abdicated its role as a watchdog and instead turned into a lapdog.

During the course of the election campaign, the “godi media” anchors embarrassed themselves in breathtaking new ways. One of them, who heads what is a propaganda arm of the government, gushed and fawned as she asked the PM whether this election was just a formality, smiling coyly as she waited for his reply.

Another wondered why the Prime Minister wasn’t “tired’ and why he worked so hard. There was plenty of softball stuff. But now that the results are here, will this godi media change?

I don’t think so. These are legacy newsrooms, especially television channels, that have spent more than a decade cosying up to the establishment.

Their owners are big business leaders who have close ties to the corridors of power. They stopped doing real journalism years ago. It won’t be easy to undo that and frankly if anyone does a U-turn now, what credibility do they have?

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

Rise of digital media

I wrote a column earlier on the rise of YouTube stars in this election, the digital media journalists who actually told us what was happening on the ground and gained the trust of millions of Indians. This has been borne out by the election results.

It is not legacy media but independent media, and digital platforms that told us the stories of distress and anger on the ground, including in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP suffered shocking setbacks.

It was not only big stars like Ravish Kumar, but the unsung reporters on the ground who told us that all was not well for the saffron party. It you watched Indian TV “news” channels or read some of the national dailies, you would have thought this election was going to be cakewalk for the BJP.

This is why efforts are on to bring in a law to regulate content on digital media. Reports say the centre wants to include digital content creators in a new Bill in order to “regulate” them. Press bodies have already expressed concern with these moves.

Today, the Indian media is no longer represented by the legacy groups that have discredited themselves completely. People watch it purely for the “entertainment” value.

What this moment does offer is a period of reflection for the Indian media. Because I don’t believe for a moment that the BJP alone will want to influence and control the press.

Given how supine the media has been, I believe anyone who comes to power in the future will try to wield the same power. They have seen how easily it can be done and which politician doesn’t want to control the narrative?

It is up to the media to regain its credibility.