Modi may be ready to bridge communication gap between the government and media

NEW DELHI,PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR:Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have changed his mind about the media. According to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, he is now telling his cabinet colleagues and his bureaucrats to speak to the media, and convey the work accomplished by his government in the 18 months he has been in office. Modi now seems to have realised that his strategy of keeping away from the media has not done him or his government any good.

Despite Modi’s nudge, neither ministerial colleagues nor the bureaucrats have taken the initiative to reach out to the media. They all seem to be wary of the fallout if they were to inadvertently speak what is not in the script.
Many of the ministers have been addressing press conferences at 11, Ashoka Road, the party headquarters. But these press conferences were held to counter the allegations made by the opponents, as in l’affaire Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), or about the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit doctoral student of the Central University of Hyderabad (CUH). But none of them have been about the policies and programmes of their own ministries.

When the BJP was in Opposition, their leaders interacted with the media officially and informally, and almost on a daily basis. They shared a lot of information about the party and much more about the Congress, which was in power. Today, the BJP has become an opaque party and one does not get a sense of the thinking within the party or the mood. All that the media get today is the regular flow of press statements from the party president’s office. An iron curtain has descended on the party.
Modi’s distrust of the media goes back to the Godhra carnage and post-Godhra killing of Muslims in February-March, 2002. The media’s unrelenting coverage of the riots put him off them. When he agreed to interviews after 2002, he was constantly questioned about his views on the riots. Modi clammed up. But as he won the assembly elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012, his coldness towards the media increased. It continued even after he was named the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Even during the Lok Sabha campaign in early 2014, he talked to the media rather reluctantly. He was either cold or hostile towards the interviewers. The only candid interview he gave before the election was to Reuters.
Things were quite different in the summer of 2014. His triumphant mood then reflected the view that he won the national mandate despite the media and not because of it. Through the 18 months he has been in office, he wanted to be his own media man. He was on Twitter. He started his monthly radio address, Mann Ki Baat, in the manner of the presidents of the United States. But he remained unwilling to interact with traditional media— print and television. The few interviews he granted on completing one year in office were selective, and they were not free-wheeling interviews. He has not held a single a press interaction since he became the prime minister.
In 2015, Modi did meet the beat reporters who cover the BJP in batches at Arun Jaitley’s house. But it was a get-to-know gathering rather than an informal interaction, where he could be asked questions and where he could express himself freely.
It is also being observed that he has not met senior editors, from whom he could have got critical feedback about what the public mood is like. All of the previous prime ministers were known to have met editors occasionally over breakfast for an informal chat. But Modi seems as yet unprepared for that kind of an interaction.
One of the embarrassing moments that Modi faced was in London last year. During the joint press conference he shared with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the British media asked him the inevitable question about rising intolerance in India. Modi answered the question with certain poise. Had a similar question been asked by the media in India, he might have walked off in a huff. He did not have that option in London.

Modi might have to step out and talking to the media himself, and this could embolden his cabinet colleagues and the bureaucrats to share information and perspective which a Press Information Bureau (PIB) handout cannot convey.