The media should be the last refuge of the Prime Minister of any country. I think our ministers are too vocal without saying anything – whether it is home minister P.Chidambaram whose bright idea it is for the PM to have these gup-shups, or the social networking guys who provide bird feed or the Digvijay Singh types who use the rattler to create a noise. Occasionally some sense comes out of it, but politics and leadership are not occasional sparks.
Manmohan Singh’s interaction with the media will be as scripted as his speeches. If anything, it will create fissures among different groups as to who gets to attend these special sessions. Five senior editors are being invited. The first meeting was today. His office is expected to release the transcripts.
This is as pathetic as Anna Hazare holding the government to ransom. And it is unfortunate both ways. One, this amounts to fed information. The editors may ask questions but one can be reasonably certain it won’t be open season. Dr. Singh will know what is being asked beforehand – and most senior media guys tend to err on the side of propriety when it comes to dealing with authority. Gone are the days of putting their heads on the chopping block. Now, it is more important to rub shoulders with the powerful, and even if it means making them accountable there is an element of “See, we have this much reach.”
Two, how many of the editors will carry the full transcript? What would the editing reveal if not their own pet positions? That would not be as bad as trying hard to give a balanced picture and misleading the reader/viewer by slyly pushing an agenda. Recall the famous breakfast meeting by Pervez Musharraf in Agra where editors spoke about the fluffy omelettes and his compliments on their clothes. They called it his PR coup.
(Break: Just come in. One of the PM's statements at the high-powered meet: "What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives and this is the mainspring that we have to tap.")
Take any recent event and you can see which side the media house is on despite giving all sides.
Manmohan Singh is answerable to the nation not to the media. The job of the media is to carry news and express opinions and the two should be clearly demarcated. The PM owes them nothing. He owes the citizens an explanation. For that he needs to release a statement or come before the Doordarshan cameras. Maybe answer queries from the public.
Government transparency is not about discussing policy issues with editors. They are not in the government. And they are not even transparent themselves.
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I can understand media pressure when one of their own is murdered. Initially, many did to want to comment on the killing of investigative editor J. Dey, remember? Let the cops do their job was their stance. Then the morchas took place. The ministers were pressurised. The cops had to do something quick.
Now they have rounded up seven people from the Chhota Rajan gang. Everyone knows that this could be the tip of the iceberg, but can the media run its own investigations? If so, then come clean. Don’t expect the government to deliver the goods and then run your own theories. Dey’s colleague ‘Akela’ had some leads. Have they come to any use?
And, more importantly, if he made that trip to Europe and met some underworld guy, then what exactly was going on? What about his proposed junket trip to Philippines that he was not too keen on? Are scribes being used to act as messengers and by whom?
Rather conveniently, the action has suddenly shifted to Chandni Chowk where the plan was apparently hatched. This, after the case was “cracked”. More obfuscation, but no real questions. And, yes, no motives.
(Here was my take on June 11: Who kills investigative reporters?)
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Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is not making any promises. Nice. He left a public gathering when he was asked to make an announcement in Beerwah that it would be given separate district status from Budgam. He said there are procedures for these things and he cannot make false promises.
This is all good. But why did he leave the venue? He is the CM. It wasn’t like he was being asked for Kashmir to be separated from Jammu or Ladakh or even India…