Study on the coverage of elections 2004

Monitoring television content: Citizen's response

Source: Study conducted by Viewers Forum and Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR)


The 2004 General elections began with the NDA government releasing ads with the slogans `India Shining' and speaking of the `feel good factor '. It asked the public for a renewed mandate on its positive economic / development record. It also fought this election on a personality plank: Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee against Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Congress president. These became the focus of the 2004 election campaign for both the Government and the main Opposition parties.

For the first time, a general election campaign was covered in such an extensive manner by multiple 24-hour TV news channels. Given this extensive TV coverage, Election 2004 has been termed the first `live’ TV election in the country. Some have gone so far as to say these elections were contested on TV rather than on the ground. Also, for the first time, political parties such as the BJP and Congress set up TV news monitoring cells to track the coverage.

Scope of present study

In view of the number of 24-hour news channels and the importance given to the electronic media’s coverage, Viewers' Forum and CFAR felt it important to monitor TV news coverage of Election 2004. The aim was to examine:

  • The parameters within which TV channels framed the issues thrown up during the campaign
  • The coverage of issues directly concerning voters
  • The focus of the coverage: was it on human development issues or was it more about personalities?
  • How far the TV channels were balanced in their coverage of issues, parties, personalities, etc

Viewers forum

The Viewers' Forum is an audience collective and community-centred initiative. The objectives of Viewers’ Forum are to create a forum where consumers, media advocates, policy makers, media planners, sponsors, broadcasters and TV producers can meet and exchange viewpoints; to inform and improve the quality of consumer participation in the on-going public discourse on the media, especially television and to empower viewers so that they can play a role in helping to shape the media they consume.

This media monitoring study of Election 2004 was conducted on a daily and week-to-week basis. A dozen women representing a cross-section of voters - middle class housewives, basti-dwellers, physically challenged - have helped conduct the study.


The monitoring study covers a two-month period from 8 March to 7 May, 2004. This report summarises findings based on data processed for the above period over a total of nine weeks.


Week 1
8 March 2004 - 12 March 2004
Week 2
15 March 2004 - 19 March 2004
Week 3
22 March 2004 - 26 March 2004
Week 4
29 March 2004 - 2 April 2004
Week 5
5 April 2004 - 9 April 2004
Week 6
12 April 2004 - 16 April 2004
Week 7
19 April 2004-24 April 2004
Week 8
26 April 2004 - 30 April 2004
Week 9
3 May 2004 - 7 May 2004


DD News and the top private, satellite 24-hour news channels in the North, namely, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24X7 (only English channel), NDTV INDIA, Star News, Zee News.

Bulletins monitored
A total of 871 news bulletins across nine weeks.

Spread of bulletins:

  • Weekdays: Four major bulletins on each channel, Monday-Friday
  • Timing: Between 9.00 and 21.30

Bulletins were monitored for 30 minutes, beginning on the hour. With the election coverage attracting considerable advertising, actual period of news bulletins varied. Commercial breaks per half-hour were between six-nine minutes. Aaj Tak registered the longest commercial breaks- sometimes at ten minutes per half-hour.

Coverage of national and development stories

Though election coverage was as high as 60 per cent across the news channels, major national and development issues received poor coverage. A mere 4.3 per cent of the election-related news was based on national (1.6 per cent ) and development issues (2.7 per cent).

Coverage of development story as main subject

Development Story
Frequency (%)
Local Self Governance
Infrastructure/Civic Amenities
Human Rights
Women related stories
Women’s Rights
Women’s Reservation
Women- Girl Education

The J&K Permanent Resident [Disqualification] Bill, 2004 is not included in this table.

In general, development was mentioned in passing during campaigns speeches and manifestos, etc. For example, the period 5 April to16 April registered an increase in development coverage because `vikas’ featured as an election promise in the NDA, Samajwadi Party manifestos and the Congress Vision Document.

In the last three weeks of the election- 19 April to 7 May- development issues were spoken of in campaign speeches, interviews or when voters questioned the lack of development in their constituencies and threatened to boycott the elections.

Local self-governance received relatively more coverage, finding mention in campaign speeches. Unemployment / employment received some coverage in week one (8 March to 12 March) and week six (12 April to 16 April). In week one it featured as part of the `India Shining’ ad campaign controversy. In week six it recurred in campaign speeches (especially Vajpayee’s).

In National Issues, Bofors and Sonia Gandhi surfaced in week five (5th April to9th April) after a newspaper revived the controversy.

Religion / communalism / secularism were largely ignored with only one per cent of the coverage. Ayodhya only surfaced as a major issue in week five when it was included in the NDA manifesto, released that week. It is interesting that though L.K.Advani and Sonia Gandhi campaigned in Gujarat, the communal riots of 2002 were ignored as an election issue by them - and the media.

Women’s issues received negligible coverage. When they did, it was in a specific context: the J&K Permanent Resident [Disqualification] Bill, 2004 (week one) which received 1.4 per cent of the election coverage; the sari stampede in Lucknow (week six) and in week nine (3 May to 7 May) Mehbooba Mufti's lifting the 'burkha' of an NC worker during her campaign, created a controversy.

Across channels, the coverage of development and national issues was uniformly poor. Star News and the NDTV channels had more coverage of them while the national, public broadcaster, DD News had the lowest.

Coverage of political parties

In our data, we found that political parties received two types of coverage:

  • Visual footage combined with sound bytes from campaign speeches, press conferences, party meetings or individual candidates / spokespersons asked a question
  • Exclusive interviews with politicians, officials, the public on individual channels
Visual Footage/Sound bytes
Frequency in %
Press Conference
Party Headquarters
Party Meetings

Coverage of political parties based on audio-visual feeds 

Per cent
AkaliI Dal
Trinamul Gana Parishad
Lok Jan Shakti
JD (S)

Political / Religious Groups: Hurriyat-3, VHP/RSS-24

On calculating the coverage parties received on the basis of the audio-visual feeds we found:

These general elections were contested by 42 political parties. On TV news channels, 26 political parties received varying degrees of coverage. The remaining 16 political parties were ignored. From a national and regional party perspective, seven national parties completely dominated TV news channels with 85 per cent of the total election coverage.

The media treated the elections as a straight contest between the two main national parties - BJP and Congress. Even here, the BJP dominates coverage across all weeks, all channels. The gap between the BJP and the Congress is considerable – approximately 15 per cent. However Congress has an edge in the category of stories related to Electoral Procedures (Ticket Distribution and Filing Nominations). The reason mainly being Sonia Gandhi and the entry of the young brigade in the Congress Party.

Five other parties receive between 3-2 per cent each, another six get only 1 per cent each, and the remaining 3 parties received less than one per cent coverage each. Parties from the South receive poor coverage - DMK and AIADMK are almost out of the picture.

In terms of pre-poll alliances, the NDA as a coalition receives a little over 50 per cent of the coverage while the Congress and its allies cross 40 per cent. However, the allies of the two parties received very little distinct coverage – 5 per cent for NDA partners of the BJP, 8 per cent for the Congress allies. Parties that did not align with either of these two parties, such as the Samajwadi Party, BSP, CPI- and CPI–M received between 3-1 per cent each.

In the last three weeks, coverage of other parties picked up, going up by seven per cent. This increase is primarily because leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav were involved in poll related controversies such as the Chapra re-pollng issue. Secondly, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh of the SP are heard from more frequently as exit polls, after every phase of polling, indicated a possible hung Parliament that could see the SP play an important role in government formation. Moreover, this was the period when Vajpayee claimed in the course of his campaign that the SP and NDA thought alike. The SP strenuously denied this.

Political personalities

If the coverage of political parties was completely dominated by BJP and Congress, this coverage became further concentrated when we look at the politicians most often quoted / seen. Over nine weeks, we found that a few top leaders from the two parties received the most coverage: the top 6 BJP politicians account for 72 per centof the sound bytes from BJP leaders while the top seven Congress leaders account for 57 prercent of Congress sound bytes.

Coverage of top party leaders

BJP’s top Spokesperson
Congress’s top spokesperson
L.K. Advani
Sonia Gandhi
Kapil Sibal
V. Naidu
Rahul Gandhi
A. Jaitely
121 2.8%
A Soni
A Sharma
> 1%
P Mukherjee
> 1%
Priyanka Gandhi
> 1%
Other party main spokespersons Frequency
Laloo Yadav (RJD) 91 2.2%
Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party)
62 1.5%
Sharad Pawar (NCP) 48 1.1%
George Fernandes (JDU) 45 1%
Mayawati (BSP) 36 0.85%
Amar Singh (Samajwadi Party) 35 0.85%

These leaders were either major party leaders – Vajpayee, Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, Sonia Gandhi - or party spokespersons such as Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, M.A Naqvi. The Gandhi children were immediate media darlings as soon as they decide to enter into the political arena in Week 4.

For the other parties, the only politicians who received significant coverage were the leaders of individual parties like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar and George Fernandes.

Individual political personalities
The three top leaders – A.B.Vajpayee and L.K.Advani of BJP and Sonia Gandhi of Congress - together cornered 25 per cent of the coverage devoted to politicians.

L.K. Advani received as much coverage as the three highest placed Congress leaders: Sonia Gandhi, Kapil.Sibal and Rahul Gandhi. This is almost entirely due to coverage of his Uday Yatra during the first six weeks. In the next three weeks, when his Yatra was over, his appearances on TV were lower than Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Venkaiah Naidu or even BJP spokesperson, Naqvi.

Conversely, A.B.Vajpayee barely figures in the first month of coverage of the campaign. However, in the last three weeks, he receives the highest coverage. Thus, between them, the two top BJP leaders remained the most visible political personalities across the nine weeks.

Sonia Gandhi was the only Congress leader to receive coverage throughout our monitoring period. Other than Sonia Gandhi, there was poor representation of women throughout. Whereas Mayawati, Ambika Soni, Mehbooba Mufti, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dixit and Priyanka Gandhi receive some coverage, Chief Ministers Jayalalitha, Vasundharaje Scindia, Uma Bharati and Trinamool’s Mamta Banerjee are conspicuous by their virtual absence.

Star personalities 
Film actors like Govinda and Dharmendra who joined the Congress and BJP, respectively, received more coverage than many regular individual politicians.

Election commission

Inspite of the electoral procedures being ranked as the second highest category in the election coverage and a number of controversies - opinion polls, political parties’ ad campaigns, poll violations and poll violence - the EC maintained a low profile. The Election Commission received a mere 3 percent of the coverage.

Public voices

Public representation was 12.5. per cent over the entire monitoring period. The last three weeks saw higher coverage for the public on account of news channels like Star News, NDTV’s channels and DD News introducing specific segments in which the public posed questions to politicians. These were Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (Star), Gaon Gaon Se (NDTV India) and Kaante Ki Takkar (DD News).

However, women’s representation in the public was very poor.

Story variations

In terms of individual story categories, the channels had major variations. These included the following:

  • The election campaign of different parties/personalities dominated the election coverage. DD News registered the highest coverage (284 times/712 minutes) and NDTV 24X7 the lowest (182 times/262 minutes)
  • DD News’ coverage of UdayYatra (188 minutes) was more than double the Yatra’s coverage on NDTV India and Zee News (73 minutes each), three times more than Star News (52 minutes) and four times the coverage on NDTV 24X7 ( 47 minutes) and Aaj Tak ( 45 minutes).
  • Overall, Uday Yatra received six times the coverage of Sonia’s roadshow. DD News gave Sonia’s roadshow the most visibility with 37 minutes – this almost equaled the combined coverage of the other 5 channels. Aaj Tak had the lowest coverage (5 minutes).
  • Vajpayee’s campaign was dominant on DD (139min) followed by NDTV India (81 min). NDTV 24x7 has the lowest coverage on Vajpayee’s campaign (51 min). Aaj Tak, Star News and Zee News had an average of 60 minutes coverage.
  • PR and AD campaigns was highest on Star News (42 min) and lowest on Zee News (20 min)
  • The range for the other channels was between 25-35 minutes.
  • Inter-party politicking was high on four channels – Aaj Tak, Star News, DD News, and NDTV India.
  • Alliances was on highest on NDTV India (70 min) and lowest on Aaj Tak (26 min).
  • Stories related to EC were high on NDTV India (216 min) Star News (200 min) and DD News (192 min) and lowest on Zee News (109 min).
  • Star personalities received the most coverage on Star News (46 minutes) and NDTV India (42 minutes). DD News had the lowest with 14 minutes.
  • Personal attacks on politicians found highest coverage on Aaj Tak (54 minutes) - that was almost double of Star News (26 minutes). The remaining four channels accorded low priority: between 15 minutes (NDTV India) and 6 minutes on DD News.
  • DD News had the highest coverage in four areas – in the overall party campaigns, Uday Yatra, Sonia’s roadshow and manifestos. This indicates a high degree of selectivity since DD News’ overall coverage of the elections was lower than most other channels at 58 per cent. 
    NDTV 24X7 had the lowest overall coverage especially for Uday Yatra, Inter party politicking, party campaigns, ticket distribution.

Variation in coverage of political parties

The coverage of political parties was fairly similar across channels. It may be noted, however, that

  • DD News devoted maximum coverage to BJP and Congress with BJP receiving almost double that given to the Congress. DD News had the lowest coverage on RJD, JD(U) and NCP.
  • Zee News was the lowest on BJP, Congress and RJD.

Channel variation of political personalities

If we look at the channel coverage, of the total coverage received by the top BJP leadership, we find tha pattern consistent with earlier findings – that is the BJP and Congress received high coverage on DD News

  • DD News scored the highest with 22 %
  • Low coverage for the top six BJP leaders was on Aaj Tak and NDTV 24X7, with 13% each

For the top Congress leaders-

  • NDTV India (20 per cent) and DD News (19%) had the highest coverage
  • NDTV 24x7 and Star News had the lowest with 14%

Coverage of individual political personalities

  • DD gave Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Sonia Gandhi the most coverage.
  • NDTV’s channels registered the lowest sound- bytes for L.K. Advani.
  • Vajpayee and Sonia were high on DD News and NDTV India.
  • Vajpayee was lowest on Aaj Tak.
  • Sonia Gandhi was lowest on Star News.
  • Arun Jaitely was very popular on the two NDTV channels.
  • Rahul Gandhi was equally popular with all channels.
  • Laloo Prasad Yadav was most visible on NDTV India and barely seen on Zee News and DD News.
  • Mulayam Singh Yadav had high visibility on NDTV and low on Aaj Tak and NDTV 24X7, Aaj Tak and DD News.

Highlights of findings

  • High coverage of elections across channels.
  • All India coverage.
  • Variations in coverage across weeks, channels.
  • Intensive and concentrated coverage in terms of stories, parties, personalities.
  • National and Development issues very poorly represented.
  • Poor public representation.
  • Dominance of electoral procedures and campaigns and party debates.
  • Political acrimony on India Shining, Sonia Gandhi, Ad campaigns.
  • Opinion polls occupy major space.
  • Dominance of BJP and Congress with BJP coverage higher.
  • Other parties receive poor coverage.
  • A.B.Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Sonia Gandhi dominant.

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