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Knotty ties with the media

Knotty ties with the media

Prime Minister Modi rarely gives any access to the professional media, strictly denying a formal interaction most of the time and annoying the journalists by not opening up.

The Modi government, from the beginning, has always been distancing itself from the media. Unlike other premiers, he is not very fond of answering to the journalists, doesn’t take them along on diplomatic tours, doesn’t have a media advisor and the worst of all, his ministry has been strictly forbidden from interacting with the media. Modi uses Doordarshan and the All India Radio (AIR) and is widely active on Facebook and Twitter, where he has more than 7 million followers making him the only politician with the third largest number of followers on the social networking site. He has never given a news conference as a Prime Minister, shutting out the traditional media; but tweets and posts his views and thoughts online frequently as an effective way of conveying them to the people of the country. Modi’s Facebook and Twitter releases are the only sources of news stories and other information for the media with everyone getting the stories at the same time and no scope for covering any exclusives.

Modi has recently, set up a recording studio at his official residence and also launched “Man Ki Baat” which means ‘talking from the heart’ earlier this month, a program to regularly address the nation through AIR. Doordarshan has been contracted to build a television studio at his residence so that his talk could be televised in order to reach the millions in the country. Shutting off the fourth estate and giving access only to a few which the government feels would dance to its tunes is plainly dubious and cynical. Modi’s relation with the media has been strained after the Gujarat 2002 riots. The local and international media reported extensively on the riots, questioned the state government’s role and criticized Modi for failing in his responsibility and not rising up to the occasion. He had even walked off mid way during Karan Thapar’s show following a question that offended him - he was asked whether he regretted the 2002 incidents. Modi always justified himself denying any wrong doing and the Court, never found any solid evidence against him eventually giving him a clean chit.

The Editors Guild of India issued a statement in September calling on the government to interact more with journalists. "It's been a one-way street”, it said. The Guild statement also said that there was "a certain deficit of transparency in the functioning of the government," citing the delay in setting up a media liaison in the PMO and restricting access to ministers and bureaucrats. There has been a lot of interaction with the media in the case of earlier premiers. But Modi and his ministers have always evaded the media prompting the journalists to complain about the lack of two-way communication and debate. Jagdish Thakkar, who is familiar with Modi’s working style, is the only Public Relations Officer (PRO) appointed by Modi. But he never answers the calls or is simply not available most of the time making the job of the journalists more harder.

Modi has always been notoriously conscious about his image, his attire and the sound bites to the media and his every gesture and communication is carefully designed and controlled. All his campaigns use special effects to highlight his image and promote the ‘Modi wave’. But the move to keep away from the fourth estate would only prove counterproductive for Modi as well as his government. As the cliché goes, politicians who keep away from the media get the worst press always. The government, even if it is a few months old, should have clear communication policies with the media and maintain a transparency in it's interactions. Being the head of the world’s largest democracy, Modi can’t keep the meaningful silence all the time. He will have to face the fourth estate.

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