May 24, 2017

The Enigma that is BJP’s Media Policy

TWEET that lit the FIRE

Who am I? What is the purpose of life?

Melody itni chocalatey kyon hai?

Hum Clormint kyon khate hai?

Iski kameez, mere kameez se safed kaise?

These are some of the questions that have plagued humanity for a long time. Another question which is similarly impossible to answer is “What is BJP’s media policy?”

The question popped into the Bookkeepers mind after seeing BJP commit a schoolboy level PR mistake w.r.t. the degree rabble raised by the Aam Aadmi Party. It was a non-issue.  Not only did anyone believe that the PM had lied about his degrees but many didn’t even care given the great work he has been doing.

Such malicious attacks can be tackled in one of two  ways:

1)  Dismiss them outright and immediately or

2) Ignore them completely and they will run out of steam

BJP did neither. After allowing the degree question to be raised by every news channel possible and making a proverbial mountain of a molehill, the two senior most leaders in the Party gave a press conference to show the PM’s degree certificates.  The people making the allegations had no credibility but this act of sending people of the stature of Shri Amit Shah to counter what effectively was a non-issue, BJP lent its credibility to the non-entities who raised it. Now people who didn’t even know the fracas was began to question, “if this was a non issue then why did the number 2 and number 3 in the BJP invest time in clarifying it?”?

As expected the Party that originally raised these questions were not satisfied and began to raise more nonsensical questions. They had in fact won this round.

With respect, did Amit Shah ji believe that the AAP thinks that the PM has lied about his degrees? Of course not. They wanted attention, they wanted credibility and you just handed it to them. If at all a counter was needed, the BJP should have simply put the degrees on their website and not engaged in this issue at all.

This slip-up is, sadly, not an isolated example. The more I look at how the BJP engages with the media, I realize that it is not so much that I disagree with BJP’s media policy; it is that I doubt one exists at all.

Broadly a media policy exists for four purposes:

1) Convey relevant policy information to the public at large

2) Engage with the media through debates, discussions and for feedback

3) Quash rumours and  issue clarifications to incorrect stories being spread

4) Managing public perception

The first thing the formulation of a media policy should entail is mapping the media landscape with details like which channels are ideologically closer to us, which are not? What is the reach of various channels, how should the party allocate its time among them? What is my policy for dissemination of information? How should I treat a defamatory article or misinformation? Who are the various journalists and who can be engaged with and on what level etc.

It appears that no formal study of the above issues has been carried out at all as how the party engages with journalists with different biases is not clear.

An easy example is that of a TV news channel, that is widely considered to be a pro-Congress (or at least anti-BJP) channel. Whether this is true or not does not matter for this debate, what matters is how BJP’s voters perceive it to be. The normal response to this channel would have been for the party to boycott and the government to sideline to the extent possible. This isn’t unheard of certainly. Instead, a senior member of the BJP regularly gives exclusive interviews to this channel. I assume that BJP still sends representatives on that channel’s debate/ talk shows as well. Even a battered Congress has apparently boycotted Times Now which is by far the most viewed English News channel today, for their perception of its editorial bias. If the Congress can register protest by giving up maximum viewership, what is keeping BJP from doing the same, especially given the viewership numbers of this other channel?

This is not a recommendation for the BJP to boycott this or that channel, but it is an endeavor to understand, why would a journalist cover you favorably, if the one being unfavorable is given the same preference or sometimes even more than him? Is this the most politically effective way to deal with the media?

Since the last 8-10 years, the ‘9 o clock debate’ has become the primary talking point in the English news media. While the debate with Arnab of Times Now is the most popular, all channels carry some variation of this format around that time every evening. Has BJP trained its spokespersons in the art of handling these debates? From the way many of them debate, it does not appear to be so.

A stark example was the recent debate about the Agusta scam on Times Now. This is an affair where the Congress is completely on the back foot. The discussions about this have been going on for weeks. Remember, Congress was not even present on the debate panel but was represented their ‘proxies’ from other parties. The only two counters that they had was 1) Why has BJP taken two years and not done anything and 2) Deal was initiated during NDA 1. What’s more, even Arnab Goswami’s editorial decibels were against Congress.

However, the other debaters were able to skillfully divert the topic to their whim, and the BJP spokesperson was chasing them everywhere. First cardinal rule of battle is fight on your terms, and the opposition was doing just that. In fact despite the odds being heavily stacked in BJP’s favour (as just described) the BJP spokesperson was incredibly ineffectual as a debater. It even prompted Arnab in saying that the debate has slipped away from the BJP. Could the BJP spokesperson have prepared a counter for the two point fig leaf that the opposition carried? Was their line of defence so difficult to anticipate? Even if so, isn’t that why we elected BJP? For the difficult jobs (Narendra  Modi’s words these, not mine).

In fact had any of the spokesperson’s watched how Ayaan Hirsi Ali handled Barkha Dutt’s attempt to divert the focus of the ‘Women in Islam’ debate from a few weeks earlier, they would have seen how these diversionary tactics are handled. The reason I am not naming the BJP spokesperson is because it is not an individual issue but virtually an institutional one. Don’t take the Bookkeepers word for it; here are some other eminent voices from social media:

mm

cm

If the BJP is serious about debating on these shows then it will have to accept the fact that most of them will have a hostile environment and BJP will need spokespersons that are forceful and well prepared, not just in the topic matter but also in the skills of debate. Debating is a skill, it can be learned. There are people who teach this skill. If only they take efforts.

Another important aspect of a media policy is to quash rumours and misinformation so that public narrative will remain informed and positive. Let us examine how the BJP’s media policy handles misinformation.

As per an article on opindia.com, a speculative report in a British newspaper on January 26, 2015 regarding the cost of Prime Minister Modi’s Republic Day suit, set the rumour mills in India spinning. Indian journalists were reporting the price of the suit being in the range of Rs.80,000 to Rs 1 million. This was such a ridiculous rumour the BJP should have quashed it outright. But as per the same article, it appears to the Bookkeeper that it took till mid-February for the true cost of the suit to be clarified. In the meanwhile it became a lie repeated a thousand times and I won’t be surprised if it continues to find mention in speeches made by opposition leaders till 2019. Why BJP’s media cell did nothing to counter a false, vicious and personal misinformation campaign for weeks is beyond me.

Social media is not new to BJP. In fact social media added a lot of muscle to the campaign of Narendra Modi before the 2014vhustings. However, what information is to be shared and how it is to be framed is something that others in the BJP should learn.

Let us take this recent tweet:

Augusta

This sounds like a tweet from someone in the Opposition! He should be answering that question here and not asking it. What did Venkaiah ji achieve by this tweet. Even BJP supporters were frustrated. Look at some of the responses:

BS

One can go on with examples, but people following BJP get the point. Based on the output at least, BJP does not seem to have a formal media policy at all.  It is about time the leadership developed a team that can handle debates , engage with the media and be effective users of social media.

Stop Press!

This announcement comes just as this note was about to be published. It is the latest in the series of enigmatic moves, that convinces one that either BJP has no media policy, or each minister has his own personal one:

t

This deal is basically a MoU that has been signed by the Ministry of Textiles with NDTV Ethnic Retail Limited, presumably an affiliate of the channel NDTV, for popularizing hand loom textiles for Indian youth.

One question to the government:

Does the government not  have its own hand loom board or khadi bhandars for this? If it wanted to go with a private enterprise why not go with better brands that are known to the youth and can optimally market this endeavor? Let the reader ask themselves, does anyone he or she knows, has ever heard of (much less, shopped) from NDTV Ethnic Retail Limited?

Pics: Courtesy Twitter

About The Bookkeeper 9 Articles
An intrepid accountant, investment analyst, ex fund manager, jyotish student, traveler and observer. Zinda hoon zindagi ka talabgar nahin hoon, Bazaar se guzra hoon, khareedar nahi hoon.