“The Titanic had an iceberg problem. It did not have a communications problem.”
I was reminded of that pithy take by political consultant Paul Begala when I woke up to the news that the GoI, stung by the opposition to the CAA, has planned a “fresh multimedia campaign“. From the story:
A top source in the government said a need was felt for a fresh round of publicity because the government has received a lot of bad press due to the nationwide protests against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens, and the attacks on students at two central universities in the capital — Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. …
Although a name for the campaign has not been finalised yet, one of the suggestions is to call it ‘Har kaam desh ke naam’ (all work in the country’s name).
I also happened to see this: The GoI has apparently brought out a booklet telling the stories of Hindus etc who have come over from Pakistan because of religious persecution. Only, it turns out that at least some of the stories are faked.
‘Fake news’, ‘propaganda’, ‘spin’ — call it what you will, it is big business today. Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore told the Lok Sabha that between 2014, when Modi took over as Prime Minister for his first term, and December 2018, when Rathore was responding to a question, the government had spent over Rs 5,200 crore on advertisements. Another official response gave a different figure.
Rs 5,200 crore. Imagine what you could do with that money. When the Statue of Unity was being inaugurated, IndiaSpend had done a piece comparing the cost of the statue with what else the same amount could have been used for:
We could have had two new IITs or AIIMS campuses; or five new IIMs, or five new solar power plants each producing 75 megawatts of power; the amount expended on the statue could have funded, twice over, the schemes the government had grandiosely announced for the relief of farming communities. And when reading this, remember that the cost of the statue is half of what the government says it spent on advertising and publicity.
In a nutshell: We could have done so much with the money; instead we spent the money to say we have done so much.
All of this is why I was reminded of Begala’s words. The government does not have a communication problem; what it has is a bigotry problem; it has a problem of rising, multiplying dissatisfactions across a wide spectrum of society. And the only response it knows is more advertising, more publicity, more propaganda.
Late evening yesterday I saw a Twitter post that, in reference to the GoI’s attempts to browbeat Jeff Bezos into getting his Washington Post to back off on criticism of the government, said India needs its own version of the First Amendment which, in the US, specifically prohibits (among other things) the imposition of any restrictions on the media’s right to speak, report, freely.
India does not have provisions in its Constitution that specifically uphold the freedom of the press; that freedom is implicit in a sub-set of Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Do we need a Constitutional amendment that expressly protects the media’s right to free expression? Is the absence of that law the reason why so much of the media today is suspect, why the credibility of the media is eroding? I’ve been a full-time journalist since 1990, and a freelance journalist for five years before that — and in all that time, I don’t recall an instance where the lack of such a specific law hindered our reporting. And I certainly don’t think that is the reason today’s media is so compromised.
I started with a Begala quote, so it seems appropriate to bring in something the man Begala advised, then US President Bill Clinton, said during his presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
That is what it boils down to — the press is hamstrung financially, and its various egregious acts of commission and omission stems from that simple fact. Couple it with the vast amounts the government is spending on publicity, and what do you get? This. (A small Twitter thread I wrote last night to explain why the media has become an instrument of propaganda).
I’ll leave you with this for the day (I have places to be, things to do) unless something really urgent breaks. And on my way out, here are two little items worth your notice. The first is a thread by journalist M Rajshekhar collating all the protests happening in India across a period of approximately one day:
And the second is a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi:
Really? That explains why the PM has, in little over a month, refrained from uttering a single word on the ongoing, widespread protests, on the resulting deaths, on the dozens who have been incarcerated for little or no reason, on his refusal to meet with a single one of those protesting groups, on his almost comical avoidance of going anyplace where he might be forced to confront protests?
This cannot be said too forcefully: The man is a fraud. And a coward.