Managing Media, Modi Style

Narendra Modi loves cameras, hates ‘newstraders’. Pic by Narendra Bisht

 NK SINGH

Published on 15 August 2015

Everyone wants to manage the media —- governments, corporate houses, political players and, of course, the media barons themselves. Practically everyone with a stake in the power game wants its fingers on the control button. But it is easier said than done. The Watergate case bears testimony to the fact that managing media is a difficult task even for the most powerful people.

The present dispensation in New Delhi seems to have developed its own strategy of managing the media. It wants to curtail, media’s access to information. At least that is the message that emerges from last month’s order by the Home Ministry restricting newsmen’s entry to its offices in the North Block.

According to website Scroll.in the ministry has prohibited its officers from passing on any information to the journalists. Even the Home Secretary is supposed to brief the media only through Additional Director General of Media, the official spokesperson. Accredited journalists can interact with officers only in Room 9 of North Block, effectively banning their entry to other part of the building.

NO ENTRY, NO INFORMATION

This gag order is part of a pattern that has slowly evolved ever since the BJP came to power in New Delhi. Soon after assuming office last year, the NDA regime had imposed similar restrictions on the journalists’ entry to government buildings, including Shastri Bhavan that houses inter alia Press Information Bureau.

The present government scoffs at the tradition of its Bada Babus serving scribes with news and gossip over steaming cups of tea, and sometimes pakoras, in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. As a result, veteran journalists have been frequently complaining of drying up of news sources within the corridors of power. Very few officers, they say, want to part with information unpalatable to the government, and thereby risk evoking the service conduct rules and Official Secrets Act.

Ever since the exit of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, newsmen covering the PMO have found the successive prime ministers increasingly non-communicative. Manmohan Singh was known for his deafening silences.

Narendra Modi shares his ‘mann ki baat’ only through Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram. He does not need “news traders” to communicate with people, thereby doing away with their monopoly over news.

In any case, he does not have time for them. It is a widely recognized fact that Modi is accessible to only those journalists who enjoy proximity on personal as well as ideological grounds. And there is only a select few in that category.

Remember that one of the first acts of the Modi Government was to do with the long-standing practice of carrying a planeload of journalists and government officers to accompany the prime minister on his foreign trips. The crestfallen editors are yet to recover from the shock of being cut off from a steady supply of caviar and champagne and those five-minute visits to the PM’s cabin during the long plane rides.

THROWING CRUMBS AT ‘NEWS TRADERS’

Modi had perfected the art of keeping media at a distance during his decade-long stint as the chief minister of Gujarat. A man of strong likes and dislike, he would talk only to those journalists with whom he wants to talk. As a result, when crumbs are sometimes thrown to “news traders”, they eagerly lap it up.

In May this year, union Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley threw a party for top journalists at his residence —- a day after Arun Shourie slammed the Modi government for delivering less and focussing more on propaganda. According to a website, indiasamvad, many of the “news traders” who attended that party vied with one another to please Modi, who was the star attraction at the get-together. One of the “news traders” specially flew in from Mumbai for the party.

The BJP feels that a section of the media has been trying to run down the achievements of its government due to ideological reasons. A day before the Home Ministry had issued its gag order on journalists, BJP President Amit Shah had attacked “a desperate opposition” and “a section of the media” for “spreading misinformation” to malign the government.

It is not only the BJP that blames media for its troubles. The Congress party’s track-record is no better, as to be only expected. What is surprising, however, is that the quintessential anarchists in Aam Aadmi Party are on the same page when it comes to dealing with the media.

Soon after coming to power, it tried to curtail media’s access to information. It was probably the ultimate irony for a party whose top leader was a Right to Information activist. One of the very first orders of the AAP government in Delhi was to ban newsmen’s entry to the state secretariat. Later, it tried to evoke defamation law against those writing against its chief minister and other officials. That attempt was nipped in the bud by the Supreme Court.

So, the big question is, who does not want to manage the media?

Published 15 August 2015

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