Both supporters and detractors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi complain of how little he interacts with India’s mainstream media and how that leads to communication problems vis a vis his government. While what goes on in Modi’s mind and why he does so, only he knows, one can conjecture why he has taken this ostrich-like burying in the sand approach when it comes to TV news channels and newspapers.
1. Most TV anchors are rude and arrogant.
The most famous image of this is Karan Thapar asking Modi at the beginning of an interview, “…people still call you to your face a mass murderer…”.
Morarji Desai (Gujarat 1969), VP Singh (Moradabad 1980), Indira Gandhi (Punjab problem of the 1980s and Nellie massacre of 1983), Rajiv Gandhi (1984 anti-Sikh and Kashmir Pandit exodus)…all of them were riot-tainted…the list is endless.None of them were called mass murders on their face by any journalist.
Most TV anchors are generally sympathetic of Congress politicians and get confrontational, bordering on the abusive with BJP ones (with the sole exception of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley). Panels are packed with Congress sympathizers and a sole BJP lone ranger. You will find BJP spokespersons regularly making asses of themselves in TV studios thanks to that. They generally never seem to learn.
Modi seems to have learnt his lesson though. He gives selected interviews to selective people and they get record viewership like his Aap Ki Adalat appearance before the elections.
2. Modi always gets bad press no matter what: The default mode of India’s MSM is pro-Commie Pariwar and anti-Sangh Pariwar. Nothing can change that. A BJP guy trying to fight it will find himself banging against a thick brick wall. If MSM is anti-BJP, then the bad press for the RSS is ten-fold that and specifically for Modi a hundred-fold. Modi by increasing the quantity of interaction with the MSM can in no way increase the quality of coverage.
A great man (usually credited to Albert Einstein) said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Modi learnt that the hard way and would rather stay clear of regular interviews and press conferences.
3. SM has made MSM irrelevant: This is the most important of all. Social Media has made Mainstream Media quite irrelevant. For tens of millions in the India Twitterverse, the name of MSM has been dragged in mud. These people set the agenda and MSM is forced to follow and everything is exposed for the benefit of all the citizens of India.
On Twitter both NDTV and Times of India have 5 million plus followers. But Modi alone has 15 million plus, second only to US President Barack Obama in world leaders. On Facebook the number is double and Modi’s official page has 30 million likes. The truth is that Modi doesn’t need the traditional media anymore.
Also it’s one thing to have more followers and another thing to be influential. Many senior journalists do have lakhs of followers but get largely abuse. In terms of setting trends, bloggers and Twitter handles unrelated to conventional media houses are proving to be far more effective.
4. DD and AIR now part of Modi’s outreach.
With social media, Modi regularly reaches out to urban dwellers and NRIs. After he became PM, he has added two of the largest media when it comes to the rural masses of India: Doordarshan and All India Radio.
While satellite TV, Facebook and Twitter may rule Indian cities, in villages DD and AIR are the kings. Modi’s Mann ki Baat is a superhit and even news channels end up with its telecast it sometimes with a static image.
Then there’s DD which is the main news source for rural masses. Even I’ve switched to watching DD News after decades and I am surprised at how many people I meet who do the same. It shows in the consistently falling ratings of English TV news channels.
5. There is too much distortion no matter what you do.
First MSM was biased. Then it became severely biased. Now it has taken to manufacturing outright lies. If you don’t believe me, then just check out the Media Lies section of OpIndia!. There is no way you can counter hundreds of lies coming your way being spread by a well-entrenched network of #AdarshLiberals and you will merely end up wasting your time. Modi is focusing on governance.
The citizens of India seem to be happy for every poll shows high approval ratings and he is still winning one State election after another. As long as the people of India are happy, the usual suspects can fume and fret intheir TV studios all they want.
Modi doesn’t give regular interviews and Press Conferences and still there have been dozens of distortions. If he started interacting with MSM regularly then we would have hundreds of distortions floating around and firefighting would be impossible.
Being hostile to the media, Modi won his third Gujarat election, the 2013 Assembly elections, the 2014 general and Assembly elections.
However in 2015 he lost both New Delhi and Bihar? So will he totally change his approach due to that? We will know in the next few months.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger @ www.sunilrajguru.com
He has previously worked for the Hindustan Times newspaper and website, CyberMedia, the Centre for Science & Environment and IT market research firm IDC India. He also writes for Sify.com.