Monday, March 30, 2015

Has Modi Govt. made media's life miserable?

(This piece was run by popular website www.thehoot.org.....former PTI colleague and friend Nivedita Khandekar quoted me in her much read and talked about piece) 

My quote:: tries to sum up the real game !!

Nirendra Dev, Special Correspondent with the Statesman, said: 

“Media persons had a certain comfort zone. Those who had turned into armchair journalists are unhappy. Stories are not being done on the information that the government wants to hide.”  
.......
Did reporting government just get harder under the NDA? No access to cabinet notes, no leaky babudom, beat ministers not talking, lobbyists banished from corridors of power. In a HOOT special, NIVEDITA KHANDEKAR talked to 50 journalists to probe the change. (Pix: South Block, which houses the PMO, from oneindia.com.)

While others worry about the ease of doing business, The Hoot worries about the ease of reporting on the Modi government's performance.  We present a survey in which working journalists talk about coping with more restricted access to ministers and bureaucrats in the central government.

Within days of the Narendra Modi government being sworn in 10 months ago, journalists  had started cribbing about how ‘nobody is talking, yaar’ and how the PM was keeping the media at bay.
 
By last August -- when Modi had already dumped the usual media contingent to take  only select journalists from state-owned DD and a news agency when he went to Japan -- the political-toon 'So Sorry' of Headlines Today/Aaj Tak group even came up with a cartoon film showing how Modi had been increasing his distance from the media on the basis of ‘No news is good news’. 
 
By September, Modi had still not held a press conference but, as he did during his Lok Sabha campaign, chose to engage with people directly through social media, mainly through his Facebook page and Twitter handles, unceremoniously bypassing the mainstream media. 
 
This prompted top editors to ask Modi to “enlarge access and engage more actively” with journalists. The Editors Guild of India said, a “top-down, one-way interaction in a country with limited internet connectivity and technological awareness cannot be the only answer for large masses of readers, viewers, surfers and listeners. Debate, dialogue and discussion are essential ingredients of a democratic discourse.”  
 
Getting quotes difficult but not impossible
 
This survey is an endeavor to find out if what top editors called a “top down approach” or a “one-way street” continues and if the picture is really as bleak as is being painted? I spoke to 50 print media journalists covering the central government, its different ministries and departments, all based in Delhi. (See list of newspapers towards the end). Most respondents were interviewed in December 2014 and January 2015 with very few in February 2015.
 

The outcome is reassuring. In the sense that even when they admitted there was a “conscious effort to block information”, a majority of the journalists said, “it is difficult yet not impossible to dig out information or that precious quote from the minister/officer concerned.” They criticised the kind of stories that are being written, with many of them dismissing these stories as low-hanging fruit.
 
Shemin Joy, a journalist with the Deccan Herald, said: “There is a fear among officers about revealing even that information which is not negative in media parlance. Sources also have reservations about giving inputs to friendly journalists. The Modi government has clearly sent out a message that they are not keen on entertaining the media. But at the same time, journalists also should share the blame. Reporters, including myself, should think whether we are putting in that extra effort, taking the extra two steps to get the news.” 
Findings:
Fifty journalists answered six questions:  
 
1. What is the difference that you have noticed about people/officers talking freely pre-Modi and post-Modi?
 
Thirteen (26%) said officials, secretaries, joint secretaries, directors etc were still talking. 
Twenty said, they were “talking but with difficulty” (40%)
Seventeen said they were “not talking at all” (34%).
In other words, 74 per cent had sensed a clamming up.

2. Is your beat minister talking as freely as the earlier one?
 
Eighteen (36%) said beat ministers were “talking”;
Sixteen (32%) said “talking but with difficulties”;
Another sixteen (32%) said “not talking at all”.  
So 64 per cent reported that beat ministers were talking less freely or not at all.

3. Is your beat minister talking ‘off the record’
 
Sixteen (32%) said beat ministers talked “off the record”; 
Fifteen (30%)said they “talked but with great difficulties”;
And most of them, 19, (38%) said they “didn’t talk, even off the record”.
Again, the majority, 68 per cent, felt the beat minister had dried up substantially as a source.  
 
4. Are your sources talking as freely as earlier?
 
Seventeen (34%) said their sources “were talking as freely as earlier”;
Twenty-three (46%) said, sources did talk but “but with lot of cajoling, coaxing etc.”
Only 10 (20%) said their sources had “dried up, not talking at all.”
Combining the last two, a worrying 66 per cent journalistssaid their sources were not opening up easily, or not opening up at all. 


5. (Then) how are you doing stories these days
 
Or, on how they were managing to write stories nonetheless: 
 
Almost half -- 23 (46%) -- said, “Stories ho kahan rahee hai aaj-kal?”  (where are the stories?) It is mostly pro-Modi or pro-government stories”.
Rest -- 27 (54%) -- said they were tapping not just their sources, but also various other options such as other stakeholders, information available on the websites etc.   

6. Is there any way in which this lot is an improvement over the last one
 
We as journalists observe a given government as an establishment, irrespective of the party in power. This question was to find out, as a government, how this lot fared.
 
Sixteen (32%) respondents said, they noticed “visible changes” in the manner in which officials worked/were present etc;
Fifteen (30%) said, “there was no change at all”
Nineteen (19%) either did not say anything or said, “It is too early to judge”.

Read on, the following link has it all:

http://www.thehoot.org/web/Has-this-government-really-clammed-up-/8130-1-1-15-true.html

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