Let’s Talk: The Indian News Media Needs to Get a Grip
An Open Letter to the Indian News Media in the context of “Modi Wins Poll for World’s Most Powerful Person, 2019”.
Dear News Media in India,
We need to talk.
I know - it’s never a good sign to hear those 4 words.
But I’m quite disappointed in you. I’m actually quite hurt that you’d let me down like this.
On June 22, you, the Indian media, exploded with the headline, “Modi Wins Poll for World’s Most Powerful Person, 2019”. Further delving into the story would give rise to details - such as, this was a “readers poll” conducted by a rather obscure website called The British Herald.
This, dear Media, confused me for a while - until I saw how your advance guard - Zee News, Republic TV, and Aaj Tak - spearheaded this news break, lauding Modi’s placement on the list.
PM Narendra Modi chosen as World's Most Powerful person of 2019 by British Herald, beats Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and othershttps://t.co/jKjemKB3qn— Republic (@republic) June 21, 2019
Zee News in particular, mentioned, “The magazine said that PM Modi defeated several world leaders and politicians to be declared as the winner. PM Modi won with 30.9% of the vote. He was placed well ahead of his closest contenders, which included Russia's Vlamidir Putin, Donald Trump (US), and China's Xi Jinping with 29.9%, 21.9%, and 18.1% votes respectively.”
PM Narendra Modi wins British Herald reader’s poll for world’s most powerful person 2019https://t.co/Z8Wc6jLXat— Zee News (@ZeeNews) June 21, 2019
I mean, if Zee News said it, it had to be true, right?
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
In the same article quoted above, Zee News refers to The British Herald as “a leading British magazine”. These broad claims filtered into the consciousness of Indian politics, resulting in BJP party leaders and supporters picking up the headline. Most notable was Union Minister Giriraj Singh’s tweet, in which he referred to Modi as “the supreme leader of our country” - a moniker with decidedly imperialistic undertones:
https://t.co/22w7aUp7Kx के सर्वे में यशस्वी प्रधानमंत्री श्री @narendramodi जी को विश्व का सबसे ताकतवर राजनेता घोषित किया गया है। यह 130 करोड़ भारतवासियों के लिए गर्व व सम्मान की बात है। प्रधानमंत्री जी को बहुत बधाई व शुभकामनाएं। @PMOIndia @BJP4India @HeraldBritish pic.twitter.com/S3s2eSupSC— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) June 4, 2019
Now this is why we need to talk - through the breaking of this story, I saw a split in your ranks. There were those who were on the Most-Powerful-Person-Modiji bandwagon; and then there were the journalists I trusted.
While these titles granted to Modi falls in the grey area of veracity, one thing credible journalists in India could verify was whether the British Herald was in fact, a leading news magazine at all. And AltNews did just that - they delved into the background of the publication, raising a number of objectionable concerns.
My dear, dear Indian Media - these concerns were valid. They were legitimate. They were frightening.
For example - while this poll took place in June, The British Herald tweeted an image of the magazine with a cover of Modi, declaring his standing as “The World’s Most Powerful Person” on the 23rd of May. Either they could predict global polling - or something was off.
AltNews also pointed out certain incongruences - such as an extremely low web traffic rating for the site, a startlingly low number of twitter followers for “a leading British magazine”, and a lack of a Wikipedia page for the publication.
All this aside, two points stand out - one, that this news was not picked up by any other international publication outside India. And second, that the company that runs British Herald was incorporated, edited and owned by an Indian national from Kerala.
So here we are, dear Media. I have to ask - as a country, are we still falling for the same gag on the public, as we did ten years ago, when ‘The Indian national anthem was declared the best in the world!’, or when ‘Taj Mahal was awarded the world’s best monument!’? Are we, as a population, still so gullible that we feel the need to rely on dubious polls to reinforce our ‘Supreme Leader’s’ efficacy?
So here’s my ultimatum, my dearest News Media:
If you are no different from the uncles on all my WhatsApp family chats, then I’m sorry. As much as I love you, I think it might be time for us to break up.