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impact of electronic media on modern indian voter

      THE IMPACT OF THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA ON THE MODERN INDIAN
                                                                 VOTER
 Abstract : The increasing influence of electronic media in India was stimulated by economic
liberalization in early 1990s. It gave citizens access to numerous news sources as opposed to the sole
government regulated news channel of the pre–liberalization era. In the 21
st century the electronic
media was reenergized by the internet revolution. As citizens started looking at the internet as an
additional source of information, they began voicing their opinion through blogs; opinion polls
and social networking websites. This paper uses qualitative analysis for studying the impact
of the electronic media on political participation in general and voting behavior in
particular. The data for this study is obtained from the Election Commission of India, media
coverage, opinion polls, blogs and social networking websites.
Introduction
Media has been the source of shared images and messages relating to political and social 
context. In the United States political communication literature has been dominated by 
voting preference and agenda‐setting studies for the last four decades (Cohen, 1963; 
McCombs, 2004; McCombs & Shaw, 1972; McLeod et. al., 2002, p. 229, 234; Strate et. 
1al.,
1989; Wolfinger & Rosenstone, 1980). In the Indian context, research on the cognitive and
behavioral effects of media on political participation has been largely neglected. In this 
paper we focus on the post‐liberalization era in India and study the impact of the electronic 
media on political participation in general and voting behavior in particular.
India is a multilingual, multiethnic and multi‐religious country with a plethora of factors 
shaping the contours of political behavior. After receiving her independence from Britain in 
1947, India continues to remain a Parliamentary democracy. However, it also has close 
similarities with the American model of federalism. In 2009, the size of the Indian electorate 
was 714 million, making it the world’s largest democracy (more than that of European 
Union and the United States combined) (Times of India, 2009). But like the United 
States India has also witnessed declining levels of political participation and voter turnout. 
In the American case, the declining levels of political participation can be attributed 
to Robert Putnam’s thesis (1993, 2000) in Bowling Alone. Putnam (2000) argues that the 
declining levels of civic and political participation can be directly linked to the role played by 
television. As citizens start spending more time watching television, they tend to alienate 
themselves from civic engagement. This in turn contributes to a decline in social capital 
(Putnam, 2000, p.283‐284). As social capital declines, political disengagement starts to 
increase and this is something that can explain the growing political apathy among young 
people, between the age group of 18 and 29 (Putnam, 2000).
A closer examination of the Indian voting behavior indicates an overall decline, but not by a 
substantial margin. During first general election held in 1952, 61.16 percent of the voting 
population cast their ballots. In the 2009 general elections, voter turnout had dropped 
to 59.07 percent. The 2009 voter turnout figures were slightly more than that of the 2004 
figure of 58.07 percent (Election Commission of India; Institute for Democratic Election 
Assistance, 2010). In the Indian context, making an argument along the lines of Putnam’s 
thesis (Putnam, 1965, p.283‐284) is difficult due to the lack of verifiable data. However, it 
would be interesting to study the effect of media on political participation and voting 
behavior in the post‐liberalization period.
In India, internet and cable television have brought about meaningful changes to public and 
private spheres of life more quickly than education, industrialization or any other socio‐
2economic factor. Electronic media had no role to play for a decade after
independence. Print media and radio (circa 1936) served as the primary means of political 
information and mobilization. Mass media received a boost in September 1959 as a result of 
the introduction of television to urban India. The emergence of television in postcolonial India 
was characterized by competing visions. Its deeply segmented political sphere 
witnessed several rounds of intense debating between politicians and bureaucrats who were 
concerned with the efficacy of investing in television considering only a few could manage 
access to the medium (Sinha, n.d.). The government controlled national television network 
began as a “modest enterprise” since viewers had access to one channel, while the bigger 
cities/metropolis had access to two channels. In terms of influencing civic and political 
engagement, its influence was minimal since the goals of the state regulated electronic 
media were restricted to educational and entertainment based programs (Sinha, n.d.).
In 1991 the Indian television network was deregulated and cable‐satellite network emerged 
for the first time. From its modest beginning with two channels in 1990, the Indian 
audience got access to five hundred and fifteen cable‐satellite channels by June
2010. Moreover, there were thirty three twenty four hour news channels that would 
constantly engage in political and economic debates and conduct opinion/exit polls in 
election years (Press Trust of India, 2010a). The number of satellite‐radio stations grew 
from six during the 1990s to three hundred and twelve by the middle of the last decade 
(Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). These would include the community radio 
systems that became very successful in three states including Karnataka, Gujarat and 
Uttaranchal, serving as the key medium for engaging in grassroots activism, but operating 
independent of state and commercial control. The service providers for these stations were 
non‐governmental organizations using radio for generating development and community 
education. More specifically community radio served as a tool for empowerment that 
allowed local citizens the opportunity to seek accountability for state action (Shaw, 2005). 
But the success of community radio was limited to few states, due to barriers for entry 
created by the commerce radio lobbies and state agencies resisting citizens’ 
accountability through enforcement of strict guidelines and high licensing fees (Shaw, 
2005). The deregulation of the television network in the 1990s was accompanied by the 
internet revolution. From 1992 to 2010, the number of internet users grew from none to
381,000,000 (International Telecommunication Union, 2008). Today internet has emerged as a
new medium for information delivery. The internet holds the promise of “enhancing 
democracy and changing traditional one‐way process of political communications” 
(Grossman, 1995, 149; Oblak and Zeljan, 2007, p.60). The role of the internet in providing 
for political information becomes relevant since majority of the Indian population is 
relatively young. According to a recent estimate, by 2020 the average age of an Indian will 
be 29 years, in comparison to 37 for China and 48 for Japan (Basu 2007).



biblography : from an article in TIMES OF INDIA

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