Much ado about nothing on media ban

Much ado about nothing on media ban

By Pankaj Vohra | 21 February, 2015
Deputy CM of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, left AAP’s maiden press conference after journalists wanted clarification over media’s entry inside the Delhi secretariat, in New Delhi, on Monday.
There is little reason for AAP and its bosses to offend the media.

A day after the Aam Aadmi Party government assumed charge at the Delhi Secretariat, a controversy broke out relating to the imposition of some restrictions on the media. The issue figured prominently on television channels, with various experts and analysts critical of attempts to muzzle the press, when in fact there was a need for greater transparency. As things turned out to be, there was no move to prevent the journalists from carrying out their professional duties and the entire thing had been blown out of proportion by some vested interests. What had actually happened was that the media was permitted in the designated area and only those who had a prior appointment with any government functionary could go up and meet the person. Yes, there were some directions so far as taking cameras inside the premises were concerned and that is true of any government building even where Central government offices are located. There are certain Central government offices where even if you have an identity card issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), with the clearance provided by the Home Ministry, journalists are expected to get separate passes made at the reception. This is true mostly in ministries located in the North and South Blocks. And at the Delhi Secretariat too certain norms have been observed even in the past and only authorised journalists or those having pre-requisite permission can go inside and meet officials for professional pursuits.

The AAP, as a political entity, like its major competitor, the BJP, had greatly benefited from the media coverage it got during the campaign phase. Therefore, there is little reason for its bosses to offend the journalists for no rhyme or reason. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers know that without media cooperation, they would not be able to communicate their plans effectively and thus would always like to remain on the right side of journalists. They perhaps also realise that too much media glare can prove counterproductive and can come in the way of achieving the targets.Media is a two edged sword, which the BJP discovered after the results. While it can be the means of communication, over exposure can also have a huge negative impact.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the last nine months used the media to his advantage by using a unique strategy. Instead of allowing himself to be subjected to any kind of questioning or interrogation, he makes his plans known through radio talks or TV interviews given to select journalists. The plans and his proposals thus become the topic of discussion and this way he remains in the news despite a one-way interaction. Modi has also discontinued the practice of carrying the media in the Prime Minister's aircraft on foreign tours and thus has successfully avoided onboard press conferences, which can lead to avoidable controversies.

His rock star image is also on account of his clever use of the media to cover mega events like his speech at the Madison Square Garden in New York and after that in Sydney. But it seems even after a very calculated media strategy, a Modi fatigue had set in, leading to what happened to the BJP in the Delhi elections. Kejriwal, it seems, is aware of this and thus wants to first accomplish some of his objectives before sharing them with the journalists. He has learnt and evolved as a leader and does not wish to be seen as an irresponsible Chief Minister wanting to hog the limelight. He realises that there are five years given to his government and he has to spread his accomplishments over this period, instead of trying to cramp them in a very short duration module. He also probably knows that there are some things that can be done better away from public glare. The idea is not to conceal anything, but to achieve targets quietly.

The media has become very large now and tackling nearly 200 TV channels on a daily basis can be very difficult. The AAP has to only ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes which the previous Congress government made in its 15 years in office in Delhi. For instance, if negative stories against the Chief Minister or her colleagues appeared in the press, the government would try to intimidate journalists by stopping advertisements. This was not confined to smaller newspapers alone, but also to both the Hindustan Times and the Times of India, the two leading dailies. The directions came from the top and the aim was to put pressure on journalists who were reporting truthfully. That is certainly more serious than regulating the entry of media in the secretariat.

Even in the BJP, intolerance to criticism was not unheard of. A BJP veteran would take offence if he was criticised in newspaper articles. He would try to put pressure on the owners to restrain the journalists. Media management is done in many ways. Between us.


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