Personalities dominate election coverage

An ongoing study of the coverage of the general elections by satellite television channels, conducted by the Viewers' Forum, the audience research boyd of the Centre for Advocacy and Research shows that issues took a back seat, while personalities , personal attacks and controversies took centrestage.

TV news coverage of the recently concluded general elections was dominated by personalities, while national and development issues received very poor coverage. On television, the elections were not about India Shining or dimming, it was about LKAdvani's Uday Yatra, Sonia Gandhi's Road show, star personalities, personal attacks on politicians and controversies, reveals a study released by the Centre for Advocacy and Research.

Substantive issues such as poverty, health, agriculture, education, employment were negligible. In their news bulletins, TV news channels gave human interest themes were given relatively little importance, the study notes. While in the 1999 general elections, human development was the most covered subject, taking up 23 per cent of the total poll coverage, issues like these were hardly dealt with. Compared to 2004, in 1999, women's issues with reference to poverty, crime and health found greater mention. In 2004, women's issue was related to particular events like the saree stampede.

CFAR, which undertook the six week study of 579 news bulletins across private satellite news channels as well as DD News, points out that the study offers insights into a general election campaign that was covered in such an extensive manner across multiple 24-hour TV news channels: live campaign coverage, live public and political debates from around the country, opinion polls, exit polls, leader profiles, satirical sketches, etc. Election 2004 has been termed the first `live' TV election in the country, wherein for the first time, political parties such as the BJP and Congress set up TV news monitoring cells to track coverage.

Election Coverage by Channel:


Total number of stories

No of election stories


Star News



66 per cent

Aaj Tak



61.7 per cent

NDTV India



61.5 per cent

DD News



      52.9 per cent

Zee News



52.8 per cent




45.6 per cent

Interestingly, the then prime minister ABVajpayee who was supposed to be the BJP and NDA Government's main selling point, barely figures in the first month of the campaign - other than in references made about him by others. L K Advani received more coverage than any other politician. Except for DD, all other channels gave L K Advani less of a hearing with NDTV's channels registering the lowest sound-bytes for him, the study notes.

The Gandhi children too became immediate media darlings as soon as they decided to enter into the political arena by week four with Rahul's decision to contest from Amethi.

All TV channels projected the BJP, giving it almost double the coverage than the Congress, the study notes. Other political parties barely enjoyed any visibility. The post election scenario has seen regional parties and their leaders - the DMK, RJD, NCP and the Communist parties - take centrestage. In TV coverage of the campaign, however, these parties were by and large ignored. The two main national parties- BJP and Congress - dominated the coverage. Coverage of BJP and Congress together, ranged between approximately 70 to 50 per cent in the first five weeks of the campaigns.

The study indicates an overwhelming presence of the top BJP and Congress leaders on television. In the first six weeks monitored for the current phase of the study, the top six BJP politicians account for 75 per cent of the sound bytes from BJP leaders. Top seven Congress leaders account for 63 per cent of Congress sound bytes.

In effect, in the first six weeks -

    BJP topped with 34 per cent of the coverage

    Congress received almost 25 per cent

    The remaining 30-odd parties received only 17 per cent of the coverage

    Star personalities and the Election Commission receive five per cent each

Nor was the representation of the public in terms of being interviewed and quoted noteworthy. Of the total sound bytes (2832) monitored, civil society accounted for only 10 per cent, the study shows.  

A comparison with CFAR studies of General Elections 1999 finds that TV news channels for the same period had also devoted approximately 55 per cent of bulletin time to the elections. Thus, there has been no significant rise in the proportion of coverage since the last election - though live, real time coverage has increased. Across the channels, however, of the total number of stories, election stories accounted for more than 50 per cent of the news coverage, with the exception of NDTV 24x7.

Channels such as DD News and NDTV 24x7 which had a higher number of stories in their bulletins had relatively lower election coverage whereas channels such as Aaj Tak and Star News with lower overall number of stories, had higher election coverage.

Channel coverage by number of stories



Total Election Stories

No of National issues and Development Stories

Star News






NDTV India



Aaj Tak






DD News



Religion/communalism/secularism received only one per cent of the coverage. It may be interesting to note that after the election results, several political parties such as the TDP, Shiv Sena, National Trinamool Congress attributed the results to the Gujarat riots. However, Gujarat was almost ignored in TV news. Similarly the issue of Ayodhya was mentioned mostly in relation to party manifestos.

Issues like corruption and scams, Ayodhya, poll violations and opinion polls gained prominence only after week five of election campaigning.

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