Media clampdown by Modi's spin doctors

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 3/5/2021 1:28:31 PM

NEW DELHI, Mar 04: The executive summary of the report by a group of ministers (GoM) discloses how the Prime Minister guided it with his insights and gave vital inputs. The GoM had six meetings on 14/06, 20/06, 22/06, 26/06, 28/06 & 09/07/2020 and suggested strategies and action points to get a positive picture from the media.
"After detailed deliberations, it was decided to identify 10 big narratives of the Government. These narratives are reflective of the good work / initiatives taken by the Government for the welfare of the people. It was agreed to identify the strategies that can be adopted to take these messages to the people and to suggest the specific action points by which it can be done. In the process, the shortcomings and gaps in engagements with various stakeholders of media at both domestic and international levels was also identified so that these can be bridged for effective dissemination of the messages," reads the executive summary.
It further reads: "The deliberations of the GoMfocussed on evolving multi-pronged strategy to take these 10 big narratives to the people by various means including direct connect by elected representatives and state & district level representatives, engaging with media houses and academia at national and international level, utilizing all types of media, feeding them with positive stories and testimonials, developing institutional mechanisms for structured engagements, developing DD International on lines of best international public broadcasters and strengthening a resource pool of domain experts. It was decided that every ministry should identify two major public outreach programs in a year along with one day of pre-event publicity and one day of post-event coverage.”
"This way, for around 300 days in a year, there will be coverage of one or the other government program. It was also agreed to establish a new communication wing for effectively disseminating information & taking feedbacks. It was also agreed to establish a strong Fact Check Unit and to more effectively use the social media for targeted communication. A research unit shall also be set up to collate all information in proper formats for easy and timely retrieval. An Integrated dashboard should also be developed."
It talks of a vision of a) effective dissemination of government policies and achievements; b) strengthening communication strategy with focus on last mile; and c) timely dissemination of authentic/factual news and curbing fake news. It talks of spreading positive news, noting a massive push to publication of articles by experts/ministers in which more than 60 articles have been published so far. That is the way to effectively counter the false narratives.
Some other aspects covered in the executive summary are: Social media advertisement policy, dedicated education channels, and prevention of biased news on digital media. The Congress on Thursday picked up from this summary what all methods were suggested by the ministers in their group meetings.
A detailed analysis of the GoM report was carried out by news magazine The Caravan and later by The Wire. The Caravan report underlines, “One of the core concerns of the (GoM) report has been voiced in an observation by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the union minister of minority affairs, ‘We should have a strategy to neutralise the people who are writing against the government without facts and set false narratives /spread fake news.”
“The choice of words is revealing, as is the fact that the report does not spell out what a fake narrative is and how the government chooses to define it. Though its mandate was couched in cautious terms, the GoM’s report clearly sought to improve the image of the government in the media, and there is no ambiguity in how it proposed to go about it,” The Caravan emphasises.
Aside from Naqvi, the GoM comprised of four other top Union cabinet ministers – Ravi Shankar Prasad (minister of law and justice and of communications, electronics and information and technology), Smriti Irani (minister of textiles and women and child development), Prakash Javadekar (minister of information and broadcasting) and S. Jaishankar (minister of external affairs). The ministers of state who were part of the GoM were Kiren Rijiu, Hardeep Singh Puri, Anurag Thakur and Babul Supriyo.
They reached out to several ‘friendly’ journalists and influencers to collate their inputs for the report, essentially to address the issue.
The recommendations reportedly included a number of shocking suggestions, such as “colour coding journalists” as per their closeness to the government, offered by Nitin Gokhale, strategic affairs commentator seen close to National Security Advisor AjitDoval; to use the “enormous power” of the government to “control them”, by Surya Prakash, who heads Prasar Bharti; bring about a “Pokhran effect” by RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy; to “change the eco-system” and thereby “handle media hostility” and make use of allies like Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik to speak positively about the Modi-government.
Irani’s suggestion is to put together a list of ‘50 negative influencers’ and tracking them constantly using the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre of the I&B ministry, and engage regularly with “50 positive influencers”. She suggested “engaging with journalists…who are supportive of the government or neutral”. Naqvi and Rijiju did just that and suggested that “groups should be made of supportive editors, columnists, journalists and commentators and they should be regularly engaged with”.
Prasad recommended using the services of a “few imminent academicians, VCs, retired IFS officers, etc” to “write our achievements and project our view point”. The report also suggests that MEA and the MIB must regularly engage with “foreign media” to create a positive image of the government outside of the country.
“While we get insightful suggestions, it is not explained how despite being n Government, there is still a gap in the online media like Wire, Scroll and some regional media,” Prasad said and added, “One core media intervention is not getting enlarged”.
Kanchan Gupta of Observer Research Foundationsuggested a way to address the minister’s concern, “Google promotes content or (sic) Print, Wire, Scroll, Hindu, etc. which are online news platforms. …How to handle this needs a separate discussion and should be looked into. …Online media generates much heat …We should know how to influence online media or we should have our own online portal with global reach.”
The GoM has asked the MIB to promote pro-government portals. “Promote online portals – It is needed to promote and support online portals (like OpIndia) as most of the existing online portals are critical of Government.”
The editor of right-wing propaganda site OpIndia Nupur Sharma too was consulted by the GoM, and she suggested that her own website “should be promoted” by the government. Journalist Abhijit Majumdar calls the content of the fact-checking site Alt News, which regularly debunks misleading information propagated by the right wing, “propaganda”. He too suggested, “Help Op-India and re-tweet Op-India tweets.”



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