Elections are hallmark of representative democracy. (Despite comments such democracy once in five years-Manishankar Iyyer) Elections are the centerpiece of democracy. Through voting, people can voice their opinions, express their hopes and aspirations, discipline their leaders, and ultimately control their nation's destiny. To democratic theory, elections are the public's source of power. Elections show the citizens real judgment of the ruling class. However, to use their power of evaluation of the merit of incumbent and aspiring leadership in elections, they should get right information about, rulers, government actions, policies, election manifestos, political parties, the issues of the day, etc.
At the same time, elections are completive processes. It could be even unleashing conflict and tensions. If not constructively managed, elections could potentially destabilize the fabric of democracy, states and societies.
In particular, during elections, right information about right candidates are must. If citizens lose right information, elections become meaningless. Those running for offices must clearly state their positions on various issues. Here comes the trajectory of media role in elections. The mass media have a duty to report thoroughly and accurately what the contestants stand for.
Let us examine the role of media in elections
Roles of the media
The media may play several roles in the electoral process including the following:
- Voter education
- Peace building
- The media plays the watchdog role when they expose errors of commission or omission by those in power in their pursuit to cling to power at all cost. (for example, Vinu in Asianet News 9o’clock prime time news organised a talk on women candidates in the forth coming general election to the India Parliament and INC list of women candidates).
- The media can alert citizens to electoral malpractices so that these may be rectified. (while a debate on prime time news on Manoram TV, leader of AAP reminded of the hundred crores of rupees spent for electoral advertisement of INC candidates for the forth coming general election-40 lakh as per ECI)
- The media can expose schemes to disadvantage those outside the corridors of power.
- The media can expose manipulation of citizens through the distribution of bribes and other illegal niceties during campaign periods.
- The media can educate citizens through stories that adequately explain the national situation (political, social and economic) so that the citizenry will not only benefit from improved service delivery but will also take part in the development processes of the nation. Manoram chnnel has a programme called
- The media can explain in simple terms specific legal and administrative issues which can be seen to be fundamental for any election undertaken to be free and fair
- The media can adequately encourage eligible persons to register as voters and to actually cast their ballot when elections are due
- The media can provide a platform for all candidates and their parties to present their manifestos to the public
- The media can expose parties and candidates that instigate or have the propensity to cause violence so that the citizenry may be made alert to any such possibility
- The media can expose practices of vote-buying or illegal party financing to the electorate
- The media can also expose the proliferation of defamation and hate speech in campaigns aimed at influencing nationals negatively
- The media can expose voter intimidation by party workers, corruption in decision-making processes, and the systematic exclusion of certain sectors of society
- The media may strive to expose instances where political parties threaten the functioning of democratic systems rather than support them and thus disenfranchise eligible voters
- The media can strive to explain to the electorate, in clear and simple language, national, regional and universal pieces of legislation and other regulations governing the proper conduct of democratic elections
- The media need to explain to the citizenry the importance of their participative involvement in all aspects of governance systems such as voting
- Journalists should try to focus on the issues, by talking to ordinary people, particularly those lacking a strong voice in society e.g. the elderly and the young, women, the poor, and ethnic and religious minorities
- The media must strive to put citizens’ views to candidates and report their responses back to the citizens so that they know and understand their potential governors
- The media, in its agenda-setting role, can provide diverse view points and unbiased information, offer forum for debate involving citizens and the civil society, mediate in national development projects and contribute to sustainable flow of information.
Peace building and conflict resolution
The media can be a tool for fanning violence and conflict if not properly managed.