Pinarayi Vijayan’s 6 pm press meets have become a staple for Kerala viewers
Pinarayi Vijayan’s 6 pm press meets have become a staple for Kerala viewers

Pinarayi Vijayan’s 6 pm press meets have become a staple for Kerala viewers

Since March 16, the Kerala CM has been offering detailed updates to the public on fresh cases in the state and the measures taken by his government to ‘flatten the curve’.

For the last few years, serials like Vanambadi and Seethakalyanam have become appointment viewing in almost every household in Kerala. While general entertainment has always had better ratings than news, there is one daily news event that has become quite popular now: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s 6 pm news briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Chief Minister diligently updates the state – and Malayalis across the globe – on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the steps being taken by his government every day, people are tuning in via TV channels and the internet without a miss. And the ratings on TV channels are reflecting this. 

Since March 16, the Kerala CM has been offering detailed updates to the public on fresh cases in the state and the measures taken by his government to ‘flatten the curve’. In these 40 minutes to an hour-long televised sessions, Pinarayi covers several bases with regard to the pandemic and life in the times of a pandemic. He announces the number of positive cases in the day, district wise data on samples tested and persons isolated. He also updates the state on the government’s new policies, decisions, relief measures and initiatives that will impact Kerala’s 3.48 crore population, its migrant workers and NRI population as the world collectively goes through an unprecedented crisis. The daily press meets have also ensured that fake news circulation has reduced to a large extent.

Interestingly, Pinarayi’s speeches with a deadpan demeanor have not only generated jokes and discussions in the state; data on the BARC audience measurement of Malayalam channels between March 21 and 27, now show that the CM’s 6 pm press meets have turned into a staple of sorts for the average Malayali.

According to data accessed by TNM, the TRP for the Chief Minister’s press meet across eight Malayalam channels, (in both urban and rural areas) on March 23 had 7.25 rating points. It only increased in the following days, rising to 9.05 rating points by March 27. Of the 8 channels, Asianet news had more viewership than others on all days. Anxious Malayalis from across the globe are tuning into channels and online streaming to understand where Kerala stands.

“There has definitely been a spike in views between 6 and 7 pm. Ever since the lockdown, there has been a near 300% increase in news viewing as many reality shows, serials and outdoor shows have been suspended. Prior to the lockdown, prime time viewership usually peaked post 7 pm. But now we see a lot of traffic by 6 pm itself and then it only keeps increasing until 9 and 10 pm,” a journalist working for a Malayalam channel told TNM.

It isn’t just television views, the Chief Minister’s daily briefings are posted as Facebook and Twitter lives on his or Health Minister KK Shailaja’s official social media pages as well. Every live video receives close to 4 lakh views on Facebook on average. On some days, this increases to 5 lakh views. Channels also receive views through their YouTube broadcasts, which have also seen a significant spike in recent times. 

“In general, most people are curious to know if cases have increased in Kerala. They want to know if there are any cases in their locality, if there is a spike in such cases, and what the government is doing to contain the spread. Now when the Chief Minister of the state itself delivers these details, there is a lot of credibility. And he goes into minute details covering not just all sections of people, but also abandoned animals and stray dogs,” Dr Shimna Azeez, medical officer at the Manjeri Medical College in Malappuram, who follows the daily press meets, tells TNM.

But it isn’t just Pinarayi or CPI(M) supporters who tune in at 6 pm and consider the press meeting an important part of their daily routine.

Vijay PM from Palakkad, a self-confessed critic of Pinarayi Vijayan, watches the press meets daily, though not necessarily the full telecast.

“I watch it to know about the number of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Kerala. He does explain things which I feel should also be explained by officials as well. It was through his press meet that I understood he has asked channels to waive off the fees for viewers, and that Kerala is asking Gulf countries to not take school fees for these months. I don't know if all this gets followed up after the press meet though," he says.

Same goes for Nandan, a marketer from Bengaluru, who is not a CPI(M) supporter but ensures that he catches the 6 pm telecast on TV. 

“I have been regularly watching CM Pinarayi's 6 pm press conferences for many days now. From watching the full briefing at the start to just the initial minutes with numbers now, I feel that the CM should hand this over to officials or at least back to Shailaja Teacher. Though I am not a fan of how the CM just reads out the numbers passively, it's worth saying that he delivers the non-data part convincingly and with passion, like a strong political leader.”

While a section of viewers tune in to update themselves on the new cases in Kerala, others are inspired by the topics surrounding the pandemic that the CM touches upon. 

“In one of the meets, the Chief Minister advised men to help their wives with household chores during the lockdown. The CM has spoken about the importance of mental health during quarantine, isolation and lockdown. The state has followed his words up by setting up online counselling sessions for people. I haven’t seen any other leader delve into such minute and everyday details during a press meet. He seems confident in his ability to deal with this crisis,  and with his effective and clear communication, instills confidence in the public,” says Kollam resident Sajini S, who also regularly tunes in to the briefings.

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