June 6, 2024


Have traditional media outlets been upended this election season?

The 2024 elections are now in the bag. It was long, drawn-out, and controversial for several reasons. When the world’s largest democracy goes to the polls, people take notice. Not just at home but abroad also. A key factor in all this is journalism. One of the pillars of any democracy, the media has come under particular scrutiny this election cycle.

Depending on who you ask, the media has either failed in its mission to report on the truth and hold people in power accountable or has done its job well, pointing to ratings and viewership. One significant aspect of this election is social media usage. Much was written about how this election will mostly play out online as people look to alternative sources of information and outreach. Has that borne out?


When YouTube celebrated its 15th anniversary of being in India last September, the event began with a video message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He called himself a YouTuber and said the platform could “awaken the nation”. He ended his speech with the “subscribe to my channel” sign-off.

It’s a far cry from when India first went to the polls in 1952. Like how the voting process has transformed over the decades, so has India’s media landscape. Things like broadband internet, smartphones, 5G, and social media platforms have completely changed how we engage with the issues of the day and people.

Social media, in particular, has taken hold unlike anything else. The power of that was evident during the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement. 2014 was largely seen as India’s first social media election. Candidates like Modi and parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took advantage of its wide reach.

But before all this, all people had were the television and radio, with state-owned Doordarshan as the mainstay. Contemporary political and electoral coverage perhaps began when Prannoy Roy started NDTV in 1988 and tracked Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat in the general elections. Before that, election coverage was just the announcement of the results.

Post-liberalisation, foreign companies like Star and home-grown ones like Sun and Zee entered the news media space. Since the 1990s, the clout and reach of the media has only increased. The greatest competition they face isn’t necessarily from each other; it’s YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc, and the speed at which information can be disseminated on these platforms.

The Indian news media landscape wasn’t immune to the eventual partisan wrangling and segregation. Some journalists have complained about how coverage has become about speed rather than accuracy. That’s where non-traditional media has tried to creep in. It’s one of the main talking points this election cycle – is traditional media, as far as electoral and political coverage is concerned, on its last legs?

VIEW: They’re not done yet

No doubt that traditional media has been under increased scrutiny and faces stiff competition from social media and non-traditional media. That was bound to happen as people looked to alternate avenues to get their news and information. However, traditional media still has an audience since that’s where some of the most reputed journalists can be seen giving their opinions and analysis.

Election coverage is game day for large media houses. They’re advertised and marketed as events or must-see TV. They’re also bound by rules from regulators and guidelines from the Election Commission of India (ECI). That gives them a minimum standard of credibility that could be hard to come by from getting news and information from random people online.

Traditional media companies also have the resources to put and keep reporters on the ground to speak to voters daily. Social media platforms don’t have the most robust editorial guidelines, and it can often be a free-for-all. YouTube’s role, for example, can influence and reinforce existing political and social views. It doesn’t necessarily inform people but rather gives people a comfortable echo chamber.

COUNTERVIEW: Make way for the newbies

Popular opinion is that traditional media has become too partisan to mean anything. The quality of debates and discussions is non-existent. The biggest failing of traditional media, according to many, is their silence. Their silence in not questioning the ruling party on some of its rhetoric and claims. If traditional media was ever a bastion of unbiased journalism, that’s gone now.

Instead, platforms like YouTube have taken the mantle. For some, it’s the last bastion of independent journalism. As journalists saw the writing on the wall, some decided to change course. Perhaps the most notable example is Ravish Kumar. The 27-year NDTV veteran publically announced his resignation following a year of death threats due to his coverage of Modi and the imminent takeover of the channel by the Adani Group. He wasn’t the only one and is unlikely to be the last.

What platforms like YouTube or Instagram allow for are micro news outlets. Many online channels are independently run by small teams and focus on regional and local issues. There’s a level of depth and authenticity that traditional corporate media can’t match. And it works. Videos from these sources often get twice as many views and shares.

Reference Links:

  • Media and Elections – The Statesman
  • Critics of India’s Modi migrate online as mainstream media stays deferential – Reuters
  • Backstory: When World’s Focus Is on Indian Elections, Mainstream Media Keeps its Eyes Wide Shut – The Wire
  • The 2024 Indian Elections: The Strategic Use of Journalism, Social Media, and Internet Governance in a Modi-centric Election – Oxford Internet Institute
  • Like, subscribe, and vote: India’s 2024 elections depend on YouTube – Rest of the World
  • Clichés and cacophony on your TV screen? It must be election season – Newslaundry
  • TV news did during 2024 election what it has been doing for 10 years—be in Modi’s corner – The Print
  • India’s National Elections—A New Ingredient in the Mix – Rand

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Traditional media outlets haven’t been upended this election season.

b) Traditional media outlets have been upended this election season.


For the Right:

Dear Democracy, We Live to Fight for You Another Day, No Thanks to News Channels

For the Left:

CPM’s Narrow Escape: Party Retains Hammer & Sickle, But Pinarayi Vijayan’s High-handed Ways Open Door for BJP in Kerala