The Political Role of Media in Elections

This Article is written by Sujana Chettri

The term media, which is the plural of medium, refers to the communication channels through which we disseminate news, music, movies, education, promotional messages and other data. It includes physical and online newspapers and magazines, television, radio, billboards, telephone, the internet, fax and billboards.[1]

Politics is the process through which individual and collective decisions are made. It is the activity in which goals are agreed and pursued through policies designed to achieve the desired goals. The discussion of different goals and priorities often leads to conflicts in politics and it is the process which resolves those conflicts. Politics touches every individual in every level to a more or lesser extent. Individual cannot be separated from the politics or politics cannot be separated from the individual’s life.[2]

Media plays a very important role in contemporary society particularly in ‘manufacturing consent’ and shaping politics. Today’s easy access to internet and social media plays a very important and informative role in individual’s life. As we live in a democratic society and believe in conducting free and fair elections, wherein media serves as an important medium between voters and parties and the party candidates. InIndia, media plays a central role within the political process by not only covering major political events such as political campaigns, political gimmicks and political debates but also affectingindividual’s life, providing many necessary information services as well as offering possibilities for self- enlightenment and entertainment. We live in a society where we depend on media for information and communication to keep us informedabout day-to-day events likeentertainment, health care, education, politics and social issues.Thus, media have a potential power to influence people’s attitude, opinion and behavior[3].In this article, I have to try to identify the correlation between media and politics by analyzing media’s role during election and policy making process. For the said article content analysis of secondary sources such as books, magazines and web sources have been done.

Media as Fourth estate

Media which is also known as the fourth estate. The term “fourth estate” arises from the traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm; the clergy, the nobility and the commoners. In the United states, the term fourth estate is sometimes used to place the press alongside the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judiciary. The fourth estate refers to the watchdog role of the press, one that is important to a functioning democracy.The media has also been described as the fourth estate of the realm and watchdog of the society. Watchdog concept according to which the media is expected to monitor the activities of government. scheme[4]. The role of the media as a watchdog that will put government in check was reputedly coined by Edmund Burke in late 18th century in England.[5]

Read: Media and Minorities: Understanding the Ethical Issues of Freedom of Press…

In the beginning, the idea of press as the fourth estate was considered as an independent check on the activities of the estate, particularly government[6]. The media, as watchdog, is expected to reveal abuse of state authority and protect the democratic and constitutional rights of the citizens. The media typically performs its watchdog role through facts-checking statements of public officials, interviewing pubic figures and challenging them with problems or concerning, beat reporting together information from meetings members of the public might not otherwise attend. In turn, government officials and the general public must understand that the role of the media is essentials if citizens want to hold public officials accountable for their actions and in addressing oppressive tendencies by privileged individuals.

In the present 21stcentury, our lives will remain incomplete without media. For example, it provides an easy means of communication where people are able to contact our closed ones from another side of the world. At the same time, all medium of communications like television, radio and the internet enhance our knowledge by providing access to information from all over the world. These kinds of images seen on Television, newspaper or the internet by individuals and “society” in generalcan influence viewers to either support or not support those who are in power.

We can also receive different news or daily events through the television. It can also be such a powerful education tool for the younger generation helping to move on the right path. For example, “sesame street” is one of the Television programs that has a positive influence among many of the younger generation[7].They taught kids to communicate effectively, to spell correctly, choose healthy food and have fun with learning. Television provides a good influence in education by helping to teach right value. Likewise, newspapers have a positive influence on society. Newspapers not only give information but also provide a positive linkage between government and the people. If want to know more about what is happening in the world around us newspaper is a resource to get the daily information.

Policy-Making Process

One of the main political roles of media’s is in the policymaking process. Policy making is a political process which is affected by various factors. It isthrough the media that citizens learn how government policies will affect them and government also becomes awarethrough the feedback they get from media with regard to their policies and programmes. Therefore, the media acts as primary mediator between those who want to influence policy and policy makers. Policy making follows anorderly sequence where problems are identified, solution are defined, devised, lastly evaluated and implemented. The policies, on which the media focuses, often plays an important role in determining the focal issues for policy maker.

One of the fundamental roles of the media in a liberal democracy is to critically scrutinize governmental affairs that is to acts as the ‘fourth estate’ of thegovernment in order to ensure that government is accountable to the public. The media are active participants in the policy making process and the ability to stimulate change or maintain the status quo depends on their choice of subject or policy issue and how they frame it. Active reporting attempts to safe policy outcomes, but this does not necessarily mean that it always represents the most successful approach for gaining policy changes; but sometimes passive reporting can have a greater influence on policy choice and when this occursmedia’s independence is largely bypassed.The media may also influence policy outcomes through their ability to exclude certain policy options from the media which sets the boundaries for legitimate public debate.

The media also acts as a powerful political actor with its interests strongly tied to the status quo and that of other corporate policy actorsinstead of the general public. The top brass of media houses shape’s policy agendas by actively filtering issuesso that reporting conforms to their dominant news values-selecting what issues are covered and which sources are used. This tends to confine policy debate to the strict boundaries of current accepted wisdoms set by the major political parties of institutional policy makers.

Read: Journalistic ethics (Media Trials)

Constitutional Restraints on Media

In India, media does not have a free hand as certain constitutional restrictions are imposed on it. The relationship between media and judiciary needs to be carefully managed by making sure that both institutions are bound by constitutional provisions. While the media strives to provide access to information to the publicit needs to ensure that it does not trample upon the rights of various parties involved in a particular case of unduly influence the judiciary[8].

Freedom of the press stems from the right to freedom of speech and expression spelt out in Art 19(1)(A) which states that “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”,[9] of the Indian Constitution. It may either be implied, or be an expressly conferred right. The right to free speech may be viewed as one of the corner stone of any truly democratic society. This right occupies a significant place in our constitutionalscheme. [10]

Media Biasness

The term “media biasness” implies a pervasive or wide spread biasness contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the perspective of an individual journalist or article.The role of a media as the fourth pillar of democracy is widely recognized today. There are concerns over whether the press today operates any differently from other institutions. The ownership of media organizations has become increasingly concentratedand there are apprehensions that ownership may influence editorial control also. The law however, still protects and promotesfreedom of the press as an important part of the freedom of speech and expression.

One of the drawbacks of media’s role is media biasness towards certain individual or institution. It is perceived ideas of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of events and stories that are covered. It is the inability of journalists to report all available stories and facts and the requirements that selected facts be linked into a coherent narrative. There are number of national and international watchdogs and groups that report on biasnessof the media.

The media has a huge impact in shaping the public opinion of the masses. They can form or modify the public opinion in different ways depending on what is the objective. The candidates that pay for more Television and media exposure have more influence on public opinion and can influence vote banks. The influence of media increased by the fact that campaigns today, have become more focused on the individual than the party. The media plays a key role in electoral process as candidates and political parties depend on it for media access.

There is a wide-spread belief that there is a strong political biasness in the media. One area that newspapers do take a stand on is in editorials, which has largely dictated how people view certain publications. The people’s perception that certain publication is biased can have negative effect on journalists as a whole. At times, the public can assume that all media is the same and when one publication is guilty of biasness news then it can spoil the name of all media houses.

Read: Media Trial: A Detail Analysis

However, it is impossible for any political coverage to be completely free of opinion or objectivity. The media is forced to take decisions when covering politics about who to interview, what quotes and facts to select and how to interpret information.The media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices.

In order to fulfill their role,the media needs to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage. Regulatory frameworks can help ensure high standards. Laws and regulations should guarantee fundamental freedoms essential to democracy, including freedom of information and expression, as well as participation. Meanwhile, provisions such as requiring government media and equitable access to opposition parties will help ensure appropriate media behavior elections.[11]

The media have traditionally been understood to refer to the printed press as well as radio and television broadcasters. In recent years, however, the definition has become broader, encompassing new media including online journalism and social media.Citizen journalism is widely gaining traction, including in countries where traditional media is either controlled or strictly regulated.

While many are afraid that a biased media will shape people’s views during elections the media is more effective in dictating what issues voters should view as important and less effective in shaping those views. Since the media is practically the only way to get campaign information widely distributed, they influence what issues people should consider when evaluating a candidate. The media has a strong influence on issues which public views as important because repeated coverage of certain issues become priorities for the viewers and can affect the evaluation of candidates.

By spotlighting what issues the public should focus on, the media helps to dictate what issues voters should be concerned with in elections and what criteria they should use to judge politicians.Most of the new information voters receive over the course of a political campaign is transmitted either by news media or through social networks such as inter-personal discussion. The media can greatly influence the public by limiting coverage of certain candidates. The media has the discretion to cover only the candidates it feels are legitimate candidates and have a viable chance of winning elections. In this way, the media act as a filterby narrowing down candidates and shifting out lesser-known candidates and giving more coverage to better-known faces. Although the public should ultimately decide on its own who they feel is a viable candidate. Although the public should ultimately decide on its own who they having on candidates that best represent their views on public policy. Voters are less likely today to vote simply along party lines, and more likely to split their tickets and defect from their party’s choice if the candidates stand on the issues or the candidate’s ideology is relatively unattractive. The media cannot directly dictate how voters will think but it can influence what they should be thinking about.[12]

Media Activism

Media activism is a broad category of activism that utilizes media and communication technologies for social and political movements. Methods of media activism include publishing news on websites, creating video and audio investigations, spreading information about protests, and organizing campaigns relating to media and communication skills.

Media Coverage in Sikkim’s Assembly Election

The media also influence on campaigning. The media can greatly affect elections through opinion and exit polls. Although, lately voters have become detached from all the negative campaigning and name calling because they have become cynical of such politicians and will react to any sign of doubt. The media also influences the public’s perception on the viability of a candidate.

 If reports say a certain candidate ahead in election then the public will come to accept that evaluation, which can greatly influence how voters cast their ballots. It is a reality that people do not want to waste time on candidates that they believe do not have a chance to win in elections.[13]

As we see media and election, in Sikkim too the role of mass media in the general election which was held on 11 April 2019, here too media played a very vital role in election. As talking about media and election it is always questioned that; will social media be the game changer? In this Sikkim State, Legislative Assembly election, the media played a significant role as a mediator between the public and the different political parties such as Sikkim Democratic Front, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, Sikkim Sangram Parishad, Hamro Sikkim Party and so on.It brought transparency and accountability between the two.

Read: Right Of Not To Vote (NOTA)

Different political parties campaigned at the different part of the state, and as being a public, people residing at far off places could hear out the agendas and their future steps towards over all development of the state. Due to media, each and every individual were participating in the campaigning through direct or indirect way through social media.

Some of them who could not read and write those people too took part indirectly as it is through various mediums of communication they could know the agendas and accordingly make their decisionsas to whom to cast their vote for. Many of the new faces came up in politics, who were unknown to the public. As earlier there were no such steps were taken prior so people were unaware of other candidates of another constituency and of Member of Parliament. However, many people had fear and apprehensions that media may become bias towards particular party but in this election every party were vigilant andkept a check upon another party, which brought about transparency.


After dealing with the topic I came to the conclusion that yes media plays an important role in shaping the democracy. It is also called the backbone of democracy. It empowers the citizens through information. Media too arranges the debate on current affairs and contradicting policies so that different views regarding the same issues could be put forth. While the courts have been in a large measure protecting a free press, they have also emphasized the importance of a responsible press. In a sense, it has to be perceived as a right conferred with responsibility.It is therefore, the responsibility of representatives of highly responsible and respected members of the media to set higher standards of legal reporting and encourage the rest of the media fraternity to follow such principle. There is a conceptual difference in reporting other news and reporting of court proceedings. Thus, media is essential for the democratic society.

[1] What is media; , accession date-24/04/19

[2]Media and election;>mobile_browsing, accession date-24/04/19

[3]Influence of media in politics;>archive, accession date-24/04/19

[4]Media as an instrument of expression;>bit stream, accession date- 26/04/19

[5Media as a watchdog;, accession date- 26/04/19

[6]Media as a fourth estate;>what-is-the, accession date-26/04/19

[7]Role of mass media in political development;>document, accession date-25/04/19

[8]Constitutional restriction on media ;, accession date-26/04/19

[9]Articles on media;>doc ,accession date-26/04/19

[10]Media as an instrument of expression;>bit stream, accession date- 26/04/19

[11]What is media bias;>definition, accession date-27/04/19

[12]Media as a political force;>articles, accession date-27/04/19

[13]What is media power;, accession date-26/04/19

Law Corner

Leave a Comment