No anniversary press conference for Narendra Modi: One year later, PM still plays safe

Carefully deliberating whether to hold a no-holds barred interaction with the media on the occasion of the completion of his first year in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally decided in the negative. The move, which only Firstpost is privy to, happened because the extremely social media savvy premiere does not feel the necessity for another 'connect' through the media when he is already in direct touch with the people.

 No anniversary press conference for Narendra Modi: One year later, PM still plays safe

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

The Modi government completes one year in office on 26 May and the government has planned a media blitzkrieg in the run up to its first anniversary. This writer had discussed this topic in detail on 8 May.

The above report had pointed out that PM Modi was as of then undecided on whether he should hold a full-fledged press conference on the occasion. But now it appears that the prime minister has taken a decision and the decision is that he won’t be addressing a press conference as part of his government’s outreach to the media on this occasion.

The prime minister, it is understood, has told officials concerned that he does not see the need for a presser as he is directly connected to the people of India through the social media anyway on a day-to-day and sometimes even on an hour-to-hour basis.

However, PM Modi has given a green signal to his ministers to reach out to the media in a controlled manner and as many as 20-odd ministers would be giving interviews to Doordarshan to talk about achievements of their respective ministries on this occasion.

When the Modi government had completed 100 days in office, many of his ministers had held press conferences individually. But this time the ministers may reach out to the media in a more regulated and controlled fashion – through exclusive interviews to the official broadcasters Doordarshan and All India Radio. In any case, press conferences by lesser known ministers do not mean much even if these are held.

This shows PM Modi’s lack of faith in reaching out to the media through the format of a no-holds-barred press conferences where inevitably many uncomfortable questions would pop up.

In contrast, by using the Prasar Bharti route the Modi government won’t have to be bothered about fielding tough questions. First of all, these interviews will be pre-recorded and then telecast/broadcast giving ample time to the government to scrutinise the contents of the to-be aired interviews. Secondly, even if some interviews are to be telecast live, an unlikely scenario, one cannot expect stinging and probing questions from the official media.

In any case, most top leaders across the party lines are increasingly taking recourse to reach out to the media in a highly regimented and tightly-controlled fashion. For example, the likes of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, J Jayalalithaa etc. are not known for holding no-holds-barred press conferences.

This is a pity as in a country like India, which has a tradition of multi-party parliamentary democracy, press conferences are the best way of adjudging a politician. Most politicians are now taking recourse to social media like Twitter and Facebook because this is a one-way street. Obviously there is no scope of a rejoinder or cross-questioning in the social media. Yes, followers as well as the general public may put counter questions, which they normally do, but it is not incumbent upon the leader to give his/her answers.

Rahul Gandhi, for example, has seen the disastrous consequences to his interview with Arnab Goswami in the run up to general elections last year and since then he has not repeated this exercise.

For his part, PM Modi has been meeting top editors of print and electronic media regularly. His most trusted cabinet minister Arun Jaitley too continues to be media savvy. Even BJP president Amit Shah has started meeting top editors. However, the ground rule in all these outreach sessions is either it is not for reporting or certain points which the government feels should be reported are reported in such a way that suits the government.

The bottom line in the Modi government’s outreach to the media is this: media is a good strategic tool only as long as it puts forward the government’s point of view without any critical commentary or offensive questions.

So for especially those who harboured visions of a government that faces a fiercely independent press in a no-holds-barred format this occasion would definitely be a dampener. PM Modi may be an admirer of the American system and the way American presidential elections are contested through the media. But when it comes to his own government, he or his ministers are not going to engage with the media the way American politicians do.

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Updated Date: May 25, 2015 10:08:27 IST