A press conference for Modi? PM rethinks no-media policy for one-year anniversary

It's time for PM Modi to rework his media strategy particularly with regard to his foreign trips, which are aplenty

Rajeev Sharma May 08, 2015 07:56:52 IST
A press conference for Modi? PM rethinks no-media policy for one-year anniversary

Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes first year in office in little over a fortnight from now but he is still to firm up his media policy.

He's still undecided on whether he should hold his maiden press conference on this occasion. It's still not clear whether PM Modi will be addressing a press conference to cap his government’s outreach to the media as he completes one year in office on 26 May. The PMO is still weighing the pros and cons of the very idea whether Modi should himself hold a press conference or not on this occasion. The cons seem to be outweighing the pros so far.

A press conference for Modi PM rethinks nomedia policy for oneyear anniversary

AFP image

First, the PMO is aware of the fact that if he does hold a press conference on the first anniversary of his government it may well mean that he would end up holding an annual press conference coinciding with every anniversary.

This is an anathema to a man like Modi, who is known to be loath to the idea of addressing press conferences. His over decade-long track record as chief minister of Gujarat goes against this idea of meeting the press. Throughout his career as Gujarat CM he is known to have practised the policy of keeping the media at an arm’s length. Modi has always believed in not engaging with the media directly as he knows that the media will follow him closely, irrespective of whether he formally reaches out to journalists.

He has followed this policy even more strictly since he took over as PM, which is evident by the fact that he has done away with the tradition of taking 30-odd journalists with him on his foreign trips. Air India One, the PM’s aircraft, has traditionally had 32 seats earmarked for journalists who accompanied him on his foreign trips. The thumb rule is that the accompanying journalists’ organizations pay for the lodging and boarding of their representatives while the government waives the airfare.

This system has worked very well and all the predecessors of PM Modi, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, have scrupulously followed the tradition. But Modi made a departure from this tradition and refused to take journalists on board Air India One and extended this privilege only to state-owned media like Prasar Bharti, and ANI, which sells video feed to other private TV news channels. Modi’s logic behind this move was that by taking only 30 journalists with him on his foreign trips, he would end up annoying the others who were left out and therefore the policy was inherently flawed.

But now, PM Modi is at his wits’ end on how to strike a balance in ensuring proper and adequate coverage of his foreign trips and keeping the media houses in good humour at the same time.

The reality check came for PM Modi during his recent three-nation tour of France, Germany and Canada. Modi had informally met some journalists covering a BJP event after his France-Germany-Canada trip and asked who all were there to cover the visit. Not a single journalist present there was in any of the three nations. The Prime Minister shared his unhappiness over the coverage of his foreign trip, particularly the France leg of the tour.

Since his impromptu interaction with the journalists covering a BJP event was off-the-record, Modi’s unhappiness with the media coverage of his France trip was not highlighted. But a similar experience awaits him when PM Modi embarks on another three-nation tour, this time when he goes to China, Mongolia and South Korea between 14-19 May.

The China leg of his tour will be adequately covered with 55 Indian journalists already enrolling to cover the visit at their own expense. However, the Mongolia and South Korea segments are set to be a dampener. Only two Indian journalists have so far evinced interest in covering PM Modi’s Mongolia trip and only three for the South Korean leg.

It is this point that PM Modi needs to worry about. When Indian media outfits have to cover PM Modi’s foreign trips at their own expense they are inevitably driven by the news value and the importance of the foreign country the PM is visiting. Invariably most of the Indian media covering PM’s foreign trips comprise of TV channels.

China generates lot of TRP for TV channels whereas Mongolia and South Korea don’t, irrespective of the news value promised by these two countries.

It's time for PM Modi to rework his media strategy particularly with regard to his foreign trips, which are aplenty. After all, PM Modi’s biggest USP thus far has been his achievements on the foreign policy front!

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