The symbolism of the slogans “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram” were not complimentary to the fast, while in its heydays the same slogans would influence the masses against colonial rule. The Anna team was not able to coin its own slogans that would resonate amongst the people and inspire them. The poorer sections of society were not able to relate themselves to the agitation. A simple catchy phrase would have done the trick.
There was also a lack of pictures that would later become symbols. The media lacked photographers who could capture the essence of the agitation. A photo similar to the Tiananmen Square incident, where an unknown person faces down a tank would have echoed in the collective conscience of the society; such an opportunity was up for grabs during the Ramdev crack down and the arrest of Anna Hazare.
One has to look at the midnight arrest of M. Karunanidhi to know how such pictures play a significant role. This may also be the result of the cultural difference between the American and Indian news media; in the United States, photographs are on equal footing with live coverage.
The media never attributed reasons to why Anna refused to leave prison when he was allowed to go on the very first day of his arrest. It was indeed political opportunism at the best. It was very much obvious that Anna was projected as a victim, while he was lodged in a comfortable place that was not even a prison cell! But the message that was conveyed was that he was fasting in prison and refused to come out until his venue was approved. Every other reasoning was brushed under the carpet.
The hindsight bias of the media also showed up after Kiran Bedi landed in trouble for claiming pumped up travel expenditure. The entire spectrum of news channels was up in arms against the IAC.
Ideally, the homework on the credibility of the Anna team members should have been done well before the channels went on a self-congratulatory spree after Anna’s fast at Ramlila Maidan. The media had now changed their focus towards exposing the skeletons in the cupboard of the Anna team.
The media enjoyed symbiotic relationships with political parties, so that they could be invited for debates on late night television shows and to get scoops on the latest developments. The government’s side of the story was known only in December 2011 when they were projected as helpless. The focus was on the “bad news” about IAC and the various un-doings of its members. The media also sought to actively balance its bias by projecting the government’s side of the story. Thereby, they sought to play the guardian of the people’s opinion.
The way the Anna agitation began and later lost steam shows that the media loses interest in the story after it has got the “maximum bang for the bucks”. When the story had run its full course, the vilification of the Anna team had begun right after the fast at Ramlila Maidan was over, and ended with the aborted fast at MMRDA ground in Mumbai on 27th to 28th December, 2011.
After that the IAC never got enough media attention till date, except for the occasional sound bites. The graph below shows an increased media attention for Anna in April and August 2011 and the steady dip towards the last quarter of 2011.
The blue line shows the search trends for “Anna Hazare” in websites as per Google Trends. The “C” represents the average search traffic during the Ramlila fast.
In a democracy, the media has to be unbiased and accurate in reporting events. But ever since 24 hour news channels have come into the picture, channels have been creating news out of minor incidents to survive and garner TRPs. Such instances have been comically portrayed in the movie “Peepli Live”.
However of late, the media has resorted to playing both sides of the game by challenging any cynicism of their claims, by inviting the counter allegations and making a story out of those counter claims. The political class had been alleging media bias from April to August 2011. But the media ignored the story since public opinion was already in favor of Anna. Thus the downslide of the Anna campaign has continued ever since the media changed sides to placate the political class. The reason often given is that the media is trying to live up to its tall claims as the “fourth pillar” of democracy.
Also it is worthwhile to mention that all this time the Congress chairperson, Sonia Gandhi was in the United States for treatment of cancer. So, the absence of a seasoned hand at the helm of affairs could have lead to the state of disorder and indecision at the top.
To conclude, our view is that the danger of sustained media attention over Anna Hazare, tends to promote direct democracy, which undermines the fundamental principle of a liberal democracy holding that governance isn’t just about placating the most vocal sections of society.
The media is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy, and so should be careful not to tar the whole political class as well as the institutions of democracy, with the brush of corruption. Incessant bashing and denunciation of politicians and projecting politics as dirty, increased the disdain of the people for the government at the start of the agitation. The media got on the bandwagon to a frenzied, self righteous path to Ramlila Maidan, where it congratulated itself in aiding a people’s movement. It got off the “tiger’s back”, just in time to allow representational politics to speak for the people. The blatant, out-of-proportion campaign damages the credibility of not only the political class but also that of the media, which claims to be the “voice of the people”.
Anna’s “fast onto death” is against democratic traits, however correct his cause is. While it is illegal to impose one’s will on the Parliament, even such a victory is not sustainable for a long time. To give an example, in 1952, Potti Sriramulu’s fast onto death forced Pandit Nehru’s government to create states on linguistic lines, which is now under threat in Andhra Pradesh itself, due to the demands of Telangana Rastriya Samithi (TRS).
Ironically, the fast in 2009 of a TRS leader, has tried to undo the results of the fast in 1952. If change has to come, it has to be from the people, since they vote for the candidates. If the law is to be passed as per Anna’s draft, he has to get the political power to do it himself – via elections.
Indeed, the country deserves better media ethics and better representational democracy.
News video of NDTV, Headlines Today and Times Now.
* This document uses the videos to get the details of the protests at various places, names of prominent person who influenced it and the corresponding dates. The inferences, suggestions and conclusion in the document are opinions of our own.
 Time: People who mattered in 2011
 Foreign Policy magazine, Top 100 global Thinkers