With the Prime Minister Narendra Modi having broken ice with the national media, he kept at arm’s length for more than a decade, in his Diwali Milan on October 25, 2014, where he mixed up with all media persons in a spirit of bonhomie and camaraderie, immense media goodwill has been generated to enlist their (media) cooperation in the national development agenda of the NDA Government. Assuaging the disenchanted national media over restricted media access to the Government functioning so long since he formed the Government on May 26, 2014, the Prime Minister assured them “to look for a way to deepen and broaden his relationship with the media. Some way will be found to make judicious way to use his time with them. It’s important to interact with the media directly rather than (only) through reportage and articles,” he added. While this has undoubtedly helped in improving media relations of the Government, under such façade the access to multi-dimensional functioning of the Government by the national (private) media, as has been the case so far, has been restricted. The media has viewed this as an ominous sign to curb the press freedom.
The Government is obviously wary how the negative sentiments generated by the media against the previous UPA Government that changed altogether the public perception against that Government under a free-for-all syndrome of media access to the different strata of the bureaucracy and Ministers. So it has changed the rule of the game de novo. Under the new norms, a system has been put in place quietly wherein media shall have no unhindered access in a free-for-all format to the higher echelons of bureaucracy and Ministers. The media will get official information from Press Information Bureau (PIB) and publicity from the official broadcasters- All India Radio and Door Darshan. Private media shall have no unbridled access, notwithstanding the fact that the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar will continue to maintain and pontificate that the press freedom continued to be unencroached as envisaged in the Constitution of India and media had full access to the all round functioning of the Government.
Under the new syndrome, the Prime Minister will continue to interact with the people directly through social media and official media as also through periodic press meet as has been promised in this Diwali Milan. The new media strategy bodes ill for democracy as it denies a viable media platform to scrutinize the overall functioning of the Government including policies, programmes and their implementation. Officials have been gagged and Ministers’ bolti band. No one shall pop off before media. In such a scenario, people will find it difficult to get to the truth. This has the potential to lead to a regimented or restricted flow of information.
In all democracies world wide, free press with unhindered access to the functionaries of Governments is sine quo non. It is rightly said that free press with all its ills is the best safeguard for democracy in terms of their public accountability, transparency and responsiveness. After all, media is the watchdog of public interest. Alarmed by the restricted flow of information, various media organizations have voiced their concerns, prompting Mr. Javadekar to reiterate the Government’s stand that all is well and the press freedom is well intact. Even in the PIB, departmental publicity officers have lost the initiatives. Their plight is akin to the farmers dependent on rainfall for tilling the land and sowing seeds or that of the fire brigade idling alert minded, while waiting for incidents of fire to occur for dousing that. PIB officials just issue information when they receive from the Ministries/Departments. Their self-initiatives to publicise developmental information in various formats have waned. This reflects on Information and Broadcasting Minister poorly.
Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s glasnost with the media and the Government in denial mode, media access to the Government of India in the new dispensation continues to be restricted, indicating a scenario of regimentation. One hopes the Government will relent and see the light to restore whole hog press freedom for free flow of information!