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A few hours after landing in the UK on a bilateral visit, PM Modi held a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Cameroon. He was subject to a couple of blunt questions on current issues and his ties with the UK which he answered.
Whether his answers were satisfactory or not, that is a question our individual opinions will answer. But one thing we can all agree on is this: the Narendra Modi administration has maintained a dangerous distance from the media. 18 months into his term, PM Modi has held zero press conferences and given zero interviews to news outlets.
Now at this point many of us will argue that the mainstream media has a habit of being biased and being slaves to sensationalism – mainstream journalism is in many ways becoming a TRP-driven enterprise. But the fact that people’s reliance on news outlets for factual reports has decreased hasn’t diminished the role of the media as the primary connecting link between the people and the political class.
The PM’s increasing isolation of the media is having a divisive effect on India. The PM’s statements and opinions on national concerns are crucial for Indians to get a clear picture of what is going on and where their leaders stand on the issues. The PM is the most powerful person in our democracy, and anything he says automatically becomes an important topic to be gauged, debated and understood. But when he doesn’t hold regular interactions with the media, his message can be corrupted and presented in every which way. In the end, citizens are divided into ‘Bhakts’ or ‘Libtards’ due to the lack of information – or, worse, the prevalence of misinformation.
This process of interpreting the PM’s and the Government’s stand will involve the people of the country, and this process can be well-defined only when the media reports what the PM actually said and not what the PM could or should have said. This is why the PMO must maintain a healthy relationship with the media. And this will involve regular press conferences and interviews.
The PM has done commendable work as far as social media is concerned. His Twitter handle and Facebook page are very active and keep citizens aware of his activities. His Mann ki Baat addresses have connected millions. But the media remains the premier circuit for spreading information. And if the PM doesn’t answer to the questions raised by reporters, the quality of the national debate is diluted. The PM is answerable to the people, and journalism is the medium for this interaction.
Also, let’s make one thing clear: a constructive relationship between journalists and politicians involves both active participation by the politicians and relevant questioning by the journalists. The media needs to voice the concerns of the people and refrain from agenda-driven journalism. The PM must open himself to questions so that misinformation is avoided and the quality of debate is raised.