Friday, February 20, 2015

Boat controversy – Media Mischief needs to end

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.

There was all around excitement in sections of the Indian media (some print and most English TV) yesterday, when Indian Express released one minute and 25 second video in which a Coast Guard DIG claims that on December 31 night he “told them to blow the boat off”. So the usual suspects were elated that the “controversy” surrounding the boat incident was back and they can now claim to have been indicated in “questioning” the Government.
Today’s The Hindu had three news items regarding this. These news items broadly cover the entire base of arguments that other “questioners” have been making, so for argument sakes, I am only considering these three articles to counter the points made by these folks.
This is the first page news item today.
Pakistan boat controversy - Media Mischief needs to end
Some key points from the article:
1. “The Centre faces troubling questions over the destruction of a boat …”
2. “But the statement of BK Loshali, Deputy Inspector-General, Coast Guard, that he had ordered the blowing up of the boat has sparked a storm for the Government.”
First, let’s take a look at the 1:25 minute video. The DIG never claimed that he “ordered”He merely says that “he told them” – this by no means implies that it was an “order” that 
meant to be followed. This is not mere word play – it is indeed a very important distinction to be made. Because I am sure there are many people who would have wanted to blow the boat off instead of “serving biryani” – that does not mean all of them are giving “orders”.
Now, let’s take a look at two reports in Page 10.
Pakistan boat controversy - Media Mischief needs to end
In the report titled, “India levelled baseless charges: Pakistan” – The Hindu reports the clarification by the DIG! I was simply appalled that this clarification found place in the inner pages under a headline not related to the clarification in the first place!
Why is this clarification important? One, because the subject of this entire controversy is the DIG himself. Therefore the readers/viewers need to know his side of the story. Two, because of the content of the clarification. Here’s what he said:
“I did not even handle the operation”
You see that – this important piece of information was hidden. The office in question clarifies that he did not even handle the operation, and this news is hidden inside?!  I am sure many people within the organisation would have felt like blowing up the boat – how does it amount to passing “orders”?
Next, let’s talk about the “troubling questions” the Centre is facing. Questions posed by Praveen Swami have been most efficiently countered here , so nothing further to add. Karan Thapar did a one-one interview, in which (as is his wont), he repeated questions that “many” people were asking. The summary of what he is asking is this:
1. Why didn’t the handlers of the boat blast the boat?
2. Why didn’t they commit suicide in one of the many possible options available?
3. Are your (India’s) intercepts true? How can you be sure that they were terrorists?
4. Other questions relate to “procedural issues” that newspaper claim they got from “sources”.
A boat is in Indian waters, doesn’t co-operate when intercepted for more than 14 hours, blows up itself, and our Government is supposed to sit and analyse why the poor souls committed suicide? The Indian Government is categorically stating that they didn’t hit the boat. Which departments spoke to each other, which ones didn’t become very relevant if the CG would have gone out in a hurry and hit the boat. In this case, CG intercepted for more than 14 hours, and the boat blew itself up!
Yet, people came up with random questions just so as to question the Government. And then run headlines like “Government in a spot”?The Consulting Editor who goes about hitting people on the streets, asks us if “asking tough questions” is wrong. He wouldn’t ofcourse understand the difference between a relevant question and an irrelevant one. This ilk assumes an inherent right to pose any random thought that comes to their mind, and further assumes that the powers that be waste time in answering them!
The other prominently highlighted headline – “Centre escapes harsh criticism”. What “harsh criticism” is being directed at the Centre? That they are not answering properly on why the handlers of the boat didn’t behave in a logical manner? That they are not releasing all intercepts?
Security of the source trumps all stupid questions – there is a reason parties don’t resort to “harsh criticism” – because there is very little scope for it, in this instance! On a side note, please notice how the communists link “ache din” to even this incident! No wonder they are nearing extinction now.
Does that mean the Army/Navy/Air Force/Defence units should not be questioned? Of course, they can be questioned. Questions have to be relevant, not innocuous or random ones that have no bearing on the incident. The mere ranting of an officer who was not even involved in the operation gather front page news; rantings are mis-interpreted so as to set a false narrative, and then claimed that the Centre is not coming clean!
The Defence Ministry is very clear on the entire operation. It is quite clear from the 1:25 minute video (I also wonder why 1:25 minute is released!) that the officer never claimed he “ordered”. Yet, our media is trying desperately to create a false narrative. This is deliberate lying at best, and delusionary at worst.

BJP's failed stategy in countering media lies.

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:

The years 2012-2014 marked a considerable shift in the way BJP communicated with the media and the masses. On TV, the likes of Nirmala Seetharaman, Piyush Goyal, Smriti Irani et al prepared forceful arguments and made sure their point of view was heard (more often than not ) amidst the noisy format. Narendra Modi led from the front in using the social media to effectively communicate his points, and also to counter propaganda.
The recent goof ups on Delhi Church “attacks”, the inability to prevent the lie of “10 lakh suit” propagated by the media more than the Opposition (Exhibit 12  and 3), the failure in disseminating information regarding the ordinances passed, – all point to a certain laxity in the system that existed prior to 2012.
The media hasn’t changed – it’s how the party is communicating that changed. Media creates a lie or asks stupid questions, and then goes to town demanding the Government clarify on it.
The Delhi “attacks” goof up is particularly embarrassing because someone as high as the Home Minister himself contradicted the police version – the police were telling us that these are mere thefts, whilst the Home Minister went ahead and condemned the “vandalism”. The media propagated a dangerous lie, and the party and the Government gave in, without even doing homework on basic facts (as elucidated in this article here). It is plain shocking to see how the media can create an issue out of thin air and get away with it so easily. Mature democracies cannot encourage such propagandas.
Prime Minister had to again assert, in a very significant speech, that his Government “will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly” is proof of how the perception battle was being lost.
Many suggestions have come forward on how BJP can regain their lost course. Primary among them being a suggestion for a daily presser on important issues the party wants to discuss. The party actually does a daily presser – the effectiveness of which is quite obviously in question! Below, I list out some specific suggestions that can help party set the discourse.
1. None of the Prime Minister’s flagship programmess ever feature during the prime time of any news channels (English and Hindi). The BJP’s Pressers should focus more on these – reeling out statistics on Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, Make in India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Jan Dhan Yojna etc. If any newspaper highlights achievements through graphics/reports, BJP should supply more information in the presser. If graphics/reports point out on inadequacies, BJP must convey more information too – and if needed, promise that improvements will soon happen.
The party must invite participation and specific criticism on the various schemes. For example, Telugu news channels have become partners in Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan – they actively cover events concerning it and also highlighted the inadequacies in achieving the goal.
2. It is important to have “Easy to understand” material for dissemination. Salient points must be highlighted, and the stage should be set for the discourse on issues that matter. For example, thisArun Jaitley’s response to the criticism on the Ordinance to Amend LARB. Twitter user Amit Malviya has suggested that along with such detailed explanation, interesting graphics can also be released – this gives an opportunity for many users to easily understand the changes, and thus participate in a spreading info on the social media. The best example is the manner in which salient points of Modi’s speeches were published on a daily basis during the campaign.
3. However, the Pressers are of little value if the spokespersons cannot mention these issues on prime time debates on TV. They must use the first available opportunity to do a plug in of their Presser and the issues they have spoken about. For example, let’s assume that on a day the number of accounts opened under Jan Dhan Yojana becomes 15 crore, and an English channel’s lead story is about some random political issue, the BJP spokesperson on the panel should start off like this, “Before answering your query, I would like to use the opportunity to quickly point out that a total of 15 crore people have opened their accounts under Jan Dhan Yojna today. We have covered this in greater detail in our Presser today, and would be obliged to your channel if you can run it at your convenience. Alternatively, it can be viewed at our website. Now coming to the query…” This must not be a one time thing but should be feature regularly – the party can only change the discourse if it persists with its messaging. If it merely follows the agenda set by media, doom looms ahead!
4. They must not shy away from talking about the wrongs in the current discourse. They must use the Presser to also talk about the debate formats on prime time TV. For example, they can show a accumulation of graphics similar to the one share above (almost all channels have 8-10 people debating a single inane topic) – and convey the impression that it is very difficult to get a point across in such a cluttered environment. They must show TV clippings of multiple people talking together, to make the point that it is all noise and no information. They must convey the impression that the people of this country deserve a better discourse and the party is doing its bit for the same.
5. Spokespersons must counter every lie; every mis-information by media folks, on twitter, facebook, TV etc. What BJP MLA Vijender Gupta did below must stand out as an example – there is no place for niceties when lies are willingly spread.
BJP must come stronger to nail Media lies
Only if the party does it effectively, will the soldiers pick up the message. It’s demotivating to see leaders talk to the very same people who spread lies and mis-information about the party, with total impunity (for example, a BJP man was silent when the host of a 9 pm show repeated the 10 lakh suit lie). If they do not get enough time on TV, they must use the social media to make their point (For example, one can begin like this, “I was on x channel on y’s show at 9pm and could not get enough time to respond in detail. Here, I elucidate further.”) 
6. I would love to see articles in newspapers too. Articles that explain nuances of policy decisions and ideology. If a newspaper refuses to publish them, unleash the article on social media – the power of the medium is such, that the media will be forced to publish them! Articles don’t have to be countering other articles (ie, reactive ones) – they should be proactive, and in a way set the agenda for a discourse for a given day/week.
7. It would be good if Ministers stop giving exclusives, and do Press conferences instead. The variety of questions that can be faced in a Presser is better, and the reaction time available is higher. These things leave a little room for errors, and can effectively convey the message too. Arun Jaitley’s exclusives to NDTV, or even the Defence Minister’s exclusive to Karan Thapar can be avoided.
8. Participation in Parliament must be highlighted by BJP. It must give details on topics raised by its MPs debates participated in, attendance etc. The actual debates happen in Parliament, not in the cluttered environment of the TV studios. The onus is on the party to exhort this supremacy.
9. The party is tending to be overly reactive. Even before ascertaining facts, we have spokespersons “condemning” incidents! Facts are sacred – it is the party’s responsibility to react cautiously to any issue that the media flares up or brings up. There is no need to directly go on the defensive – the country deserves a better discourse, and the BJP is the only party positioned to give the country this.
The BJP just needs to follow Modi’s mantra – the discourse must be focussed around development. This is not to deny that there will be days on which politics takes precedence over everything; rhetoric will take precedence over facts. It is on days like this, that the media looks for only bytes and headlines. Bytes based headlines; headlines based analysis must end – it is not possible to mature as a democracy, if our discourse is this bad!
There is an oft repeated argument that the media doesn’t matter; that 2014 happened despite the media’s propaganda. I think 2014 happened because of the effective countering of the existent discourse in the media. Media stuck to their old template, but the party didn’t continue their streak. It is imperative to have a chief party spokesperson who has the will and the dare to challenge and change the discourse. The 2014 was won because alternative mediums were used to the best possible limit. Ignoring that effort and basking in false glory will fetch only defeat! In Venkaiah Naidu’s style – it’s time to get active, not reactive!