Please talk to us more Prime Minister, talk to us a damned lot more

Accountability is not a once-in-three-years media jamboree

bvrao

BV Rao | May 22, 2010


A puppet on mute?
A puppet on mute?

On Monday, May 24, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the report card of his government’s performance in its first year. The press conference is going to be unlike any other before it. It will not be limited to Delhi journalists. Reporters from Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Lucknow will be present by video to pose questions to the prime minister. Maybe a few questions will be taken from foreign capitals too. According to Harish Khare, the information adviser to PM, about 250 news channels and 1,500 print journalists will cram Vigyan Bhawan, the venue.

Admittedly, to use a common television phrase, it doesn’t get bigger than this. This is quite the manna from heaven for any journalist, so why is it that you sense a lack of admiration or gratefulness in our mood? Because this will be the first time in three long years and only the second in his six longer years in office that the prime minister will have deigned to subject himself to open scrutiny by the media. His interviews to Indian media have been few and far between while he has been generous with foreign media.

So we have effectively had a prime minister who is not only thought to be a puppet but a puppet on mute. For a government that boasts of ushering in the Right to Information era in this country, that’s a dismal record. World over heads of government have well established and structured interactions with their peoples through the media. The president of the United States talks every day to the nation through the White House spokesperson and comes on himself regularly to face the media. These interactions only increase, not decrease, when in the midst of a national emergency, controversy or crucial debate.

These leaders talk to the media not to help it fill space but because it is their duty to reach the people on whose behalf they govern. We love to refer to the iron curtain of China, but ask any reporter assigned the PMO beat what opaqueness in administration means. For most part covering the prime minister means waiting out on the road outside his residence or office looking desperately for a byte like a hungry dog looks for a bone.

Of course, prime ministers are busy people and can’t be talking to the press all the time. That is why they have press advisors, mostly senior journalists from the print media. Their job is ordinarily understood as having to facilitate the media’s interaction with the prime minister or establish a routine for giving out information on his/her behalf. On the contrary, they busy themselves exclusively with planting favourable stories in a media that is hungry for any crumbs from the PMO. The media advisors themselves become the great wall of China between the media and the prime minister. They think nothing of the instant metamorphosis from journalists seeking information to information advisors blocking information.

There are three people who matter most in the country and all three of them hardly speak. They do not allow themselves to be questioned on their beliefs, their core concerns, their crucial decisions, how and why they arrived at those decisions, etc. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are politicians and can at least claim they talk to people directly and don’t need the media as middleman. But the prime minister is duty-bound to tell the nation why, for example, he decided to sack Shashi Tharoor or decided not to sack Jairam Ramesh or why he dare not touch A Raja or reprimand Mamata Banerjee. Or why in three years his government has not written to the Swiss authorities asking for the details of the billions of billions of slush money stashed away there.

In the absence of first hand information from his office, all reportage of his work and thinking is hearsay. Right to Information does not mean the people of this country come in with their RTI queries only after the event is dead and done with. A crucial component of right to information is the duty to reveal, duty to be answerable, sometimes even as things are unfolding.

So when on Monday and later you are told that this government has done something out of the ordinary by presenting its report card, don’t be swayed. Accountability is not a once-in-three-years media jamboree. It is being open every day of every year in office. Sorry prime minister, we cannot be grateful for the crumbs that you throw at us. Please talk to us more, prime minister. Talk to us a damned lot more.

Comments

 

Other News

PSUs must be more disciplined: Anil Swarup

 Public sector undertakings (PSUs) can become more efficient only through discipline, said Anil Swarup, secretary, department of school education and literacy, ministry of human resource development. Speaking at the 2nd India PSU IT Forum organised by Governance Now on Wednesdaty, Swarup laid

Tejas Express: Not so tej

 Tejas Express, a semi-high speed train, is supposed to run at 200 kmph. But, on its inaugural run between Mumbai to Karmali (Goa), it touched a maximum speed of 110 kmph. A few days before it was flagged off by railway minister Suresh Prabhu on May 22, Indian Railways claimed that the train

NHRC notice to Jharkhand over abduction of 1,000 kids

The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the Jharkhand government and sought a report over 1,000 children being reportedly abducted and recruited by Maoists over the past few years.   The commission cited a news article and said that it brings forth the sta

The walled city by moonlight

In 1998, as a 12-year-old, I was fascinated by the spectacle on display in the streets of Chandni Chowk, where I grew up, during the Chaudhvin Ka Chand festival, which recreated the Mugh

“In future, education will be either blended or fully online”

What restricts MOOCs’ acceptance despite having credits? It is just a matter of time. India has been used to the traditional way of education. However, the fact that India is the second biggest learner base for edX, after the United States, speaks volumes ab

Online learning is the way forward

Sameer Srivastava, a school topper from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, wanted to study in an IIT like any other engineering aspirant. But getting into an institution where only less than one percent of the applicants are selected was a big hurdle. Not cutting the IIT mark, Sameer decided to settle for an



Video

प्रभुनाथ सिंह को हत्याकांड में उम्रकैद की सजा

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter