Did the Indian Prime Minister address the Indian Media?

BY Sanjay Ranade| IN Opinion | 27/05/2010
The media is busy 'analysing' the PM's performance after the press conference on May 24, 2010. Perhaps, we should analyse the media performance too,
writes SANJAY RANADE in a letter to The Hoot.
The press conference of the Prime Minister this month, presented a great opportunity to media students and professionals to understand and analyse media behaviour and representation in the media universe today.

Firstly, it was disconcerting to see the manner in which the Prime Minister of India was placed with respect to mediapersons at the press conference. The large distance between mediapersons and the PM and the width of the podium, created an adversarial visual.

The intimacy and mutual trust, that is so important these days between the State and the media, was clearly lacking and this lack was visually enhanced by the peculiar manner in which the stage was set. Could this be a reflection of the discomfort between players within the State and the media?

The State continues to deny the media its new-found power and pervasiveness and the media on the other hand finds itself held down by protocol and often playing the role of the opposition! Thankfully there were occassional smiles on both sides that relaxed matters.

It needs to be understood very clearly that the media does not represent the opposition when it talks to the PM. It does not represent the government when it speaks to the opposition leaders. This is a hangover from the Emergency days and we don't need that now.

The media represents interests of the Indian citizen. In this, clearly the media failed miserably. Naxalism and terrorism, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir were top of the agenda in the questions from the media. Education, health and gender went unrepresented as issues. Caste was restricted largely to the census. The Muslim problem was given a classic go-by.

The level of the media's intelligence was broadcast by one channel later in the day when it said the PM addressed the 'media' and not 'issues'. The Prime Minister of India is supposed to address 'issues' in a forum called the 'Parliament', not at a press conference.

A hilarious situation, oft repeated, was the PM looking for the speaker in the audience. Every journalist was given a number plate that could  have been raised when the person's number was called out. Instead, we had journalists lowering their heads and necks to reach to the mikes and disappearing from sight altogether.

Training, training, training. The utter lack of it was apparent from beginning to end. So few of the journalists could handle the mike! So many had to explain their own question. So many answered their own questions. So many paraphrased the same question asked by another and got the same answer.

This press conference should be analysed in every media organisation and media institute as a lesson on how a media conference should not be conducted. It was not the Indian media meeting the Indian Prime Minister. It looked like a foreign head of state was addressing a foreign media. In the present media universe, this is simply dangerous -- for the Indian State, for the Indian media and most importantly for the Indian citizen.

Sanjay Ranade
Department of Communication and Journalism
University of Mumbai
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