Published On : Thu, Oct 29th, 2015

Narendra Modi and his media invite strategies!



Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India in 2014, he took a policy decision of not taking private media personnel along with him on foreign trips aboard Air India One (his official aircraft), while this was a practice which was followed religiously by his predecessors. PM Modi has started a new culture wherein only media persons from the state owned AIR (All India Radio) and Doordarshan accompany him on foreign visits.

Even his customary radio program `Man Ki Baat’ airs only on All India Radio, and not on any other private station. It is his policy decision to encourage state owned media channels instead of private media channels.


Moreover, deviating from another edict, he does not take more than four to five journalists along with him, much unlike previous Prime Ministers who while going on foreign visits used to invite a whole contingent of private media journalists, packing all business class seats reserved for media persons on Air India One.

Previous Prime Ministers used to fill up 32 out of 34 reserved seats for media persons on Air India One with journalists and only two were left vacant for SPG (Special Protection Group) personnel.

Soon after Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s 15th Prime Minister, he went on two foreign visits to Bhutan and Brazil, but only took along four to five journalists and that too from state-controlled AIR and Doordarshan or from news agencies like PTI and ANI, while all private newspapers and media channels were deliberately ignored by him.

But obvious he has his own reasons for adopting this approach, but we should come to it later. It is more important first to know what standard procedures are followed for preparing the list of journalists accompanying the PM aboard Air India One on his foreign visits. This list is always prepared by the PMO in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs. The government of India does not charge the accompanying journalists air fare as Air India provides them with complimentary air tickets, however the government does not bear any other expense of these scribes, and their employing organization has to shell out their boarding and lodging charges including food.

The hotels at which these media persons stay are selected by the MEA, which also predetermines the charges of these hotels, and there is no scope of negotiations. This is done in order to see to it that an accompanying media person does not stay in a sub-standard hotel, which might dent the country’s image in a foreign land. Another reason why the MEA selects hotels is to ensure that the selected hotel has a fully equipped media center, which these scribes can avail free of cost.

This is a practice which is followed now by PM Modi, but previously this was not the case. His predecessors ensured that all accompanying media persons were given free food and booze, so that they could unwind after slogging for 12-14 hours. It is a known fact that a journalist who accompanies the Prime Minister has a packed schedule and has to cover events, conferences and media briefings, so it is quite natural that it is hard work of running from one venue to another in the process.

A media person’s job was relatively easy during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime as his foreign trips were easy paced, but Manmohan Singh, who was a known workaholic, used to rush through a packed schedule by winding up a 3-4 day visit in just 2 days, ensuring gruesome work of at least 14 hours a day for the scribes. So, previous Prime Ministers used to treat private media persons with lavish food and free drinks..Talk about media appeasement.

Another benefit for the accompanying media contingent was to be able to interact with accompanying bureaucrats, diplomats and high-ranked government officials, and spend time with them, and perhaps more than that would be available to them in New Delhi. Collecting news and doing in-flight interviews with them provided them with enough arsenal of stories to report back home. Further, an added attraction was the on-board press conference of the PM on his return from a foreign visit.

However, these are things of the past now, as PM Modi does not oblige these private media persons with free drinks and food any more. Rather, he does not even invite them to accompany him, and this approach has irked many senior journalists of private media channels, who intend to be appeased. PM Modi has himself on a number of occasions clarified his stance on this issue and his reasons are very much valid.

Firstly, PM Modi being the most interactive PM our nation has ever seen, who is hyper-active on social media and completely realizes that in today’s online world a media person can update himself easily irrespective of his geographical location, so it is needless to carry along a whole contingent of media personnel with him on his foreign visits and spend public money on pleasing them.

Secondly, according to him it is wrong to favour big media houses and ignoring small-time newspapers. Since not more than 30 media persons can be accommodated by him, it would be ethically wrong to favour the same media channels every time while overlooking many others.

The approach adopted by PM Modi since then continues till date. On checking the website of the Ministry of External Affairs after making an RTI enquiry, I found out the list of media persons who had traveled along with PM Modi on board Air India One on his US visit last month between September 23-28.

List of media delegates who accompanied PM Modi on his US visit (September 23-28) released by the Ministry of External affairs is as follows:

-Rajiv Kumar Jain, Director (News), AIR

-Sudhakar Das, Senior Correspondent, DD News

-Ms Rajagopala Jayashree Puri, Cameraperson, DD

-Sanjay Saini, Senior Technician, DD

-Brij Mohan Meena, Photographic Officer, Photo Division

-Mukundan Asokan, Photographic Officer, Photo Division

-Subhav Shukla, Senior Photo Journalist, PTI

-Ajay Kumar Sharma, Senior Cameraman, ANI

It is quite evident from the above list that only eight media persons accompanied PM Modi on his landmark US visit, and all were from state-owned DD and AIR or from reputed news agencies, PTI and ANI. All private media channels like NDTV, Zee News, ABP News etc. are missing from the list. After a long time we have seen a Prime Minister, who does not treat public money like his personal piggy bank and spares a thought before spending it lavishly on media management.

… Ikshit Manaktala