Saturday, September 06, 2014

Modi media strategy

Once upon a time there was a Manmohan Singh,
who did anything but sing
He spoke to journalists,
who wrote it all in a list...

Stupid limerick I know, but Manmohan rarely spoke to people in 1:1 interactions. I recall a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed - who happened to meet the man himself and he asked him, as any concerned urbanite would - about the scams in the country. And my friend says, the response was a "what to do". Needless to say, my friend was very inspired by Manmohans style of leadership and went on to practice it in his job by responding to everything with a "hun ki karan" (What do I do in Punjabi). That last line is obviously sarcastic. 

During the Manmohan era, a Delhi coterie had access to him or his boss or her son or her personal assistant. These people fed news to some privileged people who trotted around as journalists and then they fed the news to the people through their media channels. At a lower level, a similar set of lower level underlings did the same and so on and so forth. Does this sound like the licence raj perpetuated by the Nehru clan? Yes, it absolutely does.

Now, this journalists pool was fed and kept in good humour by these politicians by advertisements, contracts (remember Commonwealth Game Contracts), interviews, government junkets - and there will be surely be other perks on both sides which we may never come to know. This group was not happy with Narendra Modi and were very hostile to him (and that is an understatement).

Modi quickly discovered social media and reached out directly to people - no middlemen, no hangers on, no access based journalism. He had his own website, blog, facebook feeds and finally twitter. His speeches were tweeted in real time and of course, he ran a campaign in which the traditional media came in only at the fag end by which time they were just like the trailing bogies of a train.

Now, as Prime Minister he does something similar. He has completely eliminated the journalists who were just middlemen. Like the dismantling of the licence raj eliminated the companies who traded licences, these set of journalists traded news. He has put them completely out of business.

One of the first things was launch a Mygov.in portal. Once you sign up for it, you get a weekly newsletter. His speeches are now tweeted almost live. He takes no journalists on government junkets. No media briefings. No leaks.

He also does things that the previous leaders never did - he met a crore students in a live interaction on teachers day - that is his strength. He spoke directly to people in a beautiful speech on independence day. A leader who cannot talk has to hide. A leader can talk, does not need to hide - he reaches the people directly. Maybe they had much to hide. Maybe they were elitist. They needed access control.

While he uses social media, what the media does not realize that the role of a media as a middleman has been completely eliminated. They need to do real work on the ground to report - or like some do - wait for what he says on twitter or blog and react accordingly.

Many a ream has been written on the cribs of journalists these days, like this one...

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