Media strategists, like lobbyists, are either considered very good or scum. Especially when it comes to political media management. Because, after all, most of it is crisis handling. And when the press comes to ask you questions, and you have a team prepared to give it answers (not necessarily spin per se, but we are tiptoeing pretty close to that), THEN one wonders if that’s right. But then again, if you are a minister or a chief minister of a state, you really don’t have the time to sit and answer all questions and perhaps can’t remember every minute detail, and you need a team to help you.
Fair enough. This is definitely a song I have sung before.
But I always wondered that if you had the sophisticated kind of media management in India, as you do in the States, what would it look like? Well, this question was answered when I went for an Idea Exchange with Vasundhara Raje Scindia, chief minister, Rajasthan. First off – and I missed this because I came in late – people asked her if she thought her government did a bad job handling the Gujjar riots and she held up a copy of an Express edit and said “well, all the answers to what I should have done are in this edit” which gave my boss quite a shock (at the thoroughness of her PR team's research or perhaps that she reads our edits with such rapt attention) that he was stunned into silence for the next hour. But seriously, despite people telling me she was arrogant etc etc, I actually thought she did a good job of keeping the conversation firmly to the subject she wanted to discuss – development in Rajasthan. And I thought she had some pretty good ideas. She said that because the people didn’t trust the government, they had now been employing the services of NGOs – who people do trust – to put the plans out. The same innovative thinking in their insurance scheme that has a built in scholarship for 9-12 yr olds, and she said the centre had lifted this idea and used it in the aam aadmi scheme.
She’s articulate, she’s got the little press conferences do’s and don’ts all down – taking the reporters name to give that personal touch, although she does sound contrived. Total sound byte answers. But, impressive preparation.
The only problem is that I really associate India and democracy here as being a little – messy? You know, the same enthusiasm with which chairs are thrown about in parliament (something which is not restricted to India alone let me assure you) is what I associate with politicians talking to the press. They are themselves, for better or worse.
I’ve asked this question many times over. And let me clarify. A Mani Shanker Aiyer is articulate too. So is PC. As are many others. But they don’t sound like they are talking for print or TV. They just sound like they can express themselves in a clear, rational and smart manner. So then, is political media management necessary as the press mushrooms in this country or will it lead towards a media oriented democracy – which isn’t such a rosy option in the long run. Case and point, the US.
And that's been the reason the States got into trouble in the first place. The government did the agenda setting -- hello, Iraq -- and the press followed. And the people saw the headlines and soundbytes that the establishment kindly provided, and accepted it. So while Ms. Raje was right to say that she only wanted to talk about development, taken in a larger context [lets move beyond her because she only got me thinking on this line so no offence to her], but as a public figure if you only answer and talk about what you want, then after a point, the media will also get lazy and stop thinking for itself. And thats why people start putting themselves into these watertight camps, I'm liberal, I'm conservative.... and talk to those who agree with them. And like Jon Stewart said (in my all time favourite episode of the erstwhile 'debate' show on CNN - Crossfire) it is all political THEATRE.
Questions, questions and more questions. Grr. But democracy isn't meant to be the smoothest ride in the world now, it it?