Thursday, 6 September 2012

When Governance Fails, Why NOT the Media Advisers?

We saw yesterday(5th Sept'12), the knee-jerk reaction of the UPA / Congress government to an article by Mr. Simon Denyer, India bureau chief of The Washington Post (WaPo), on Dr. Manmohan Singh, and him presiding over a govt accused of too many scams & corruption, slowdown, etc. The immature reaction by Ministers, PMO advisers, and party spokespersons, has once again shown the govt shooting itself all over its body. And, whatever Congress, its spokespersons, or, PM’s media advisers say, or, do, it doesn't surprise even a common man with the least knowledge of the nuances of politics & how the ‘national’ media reports! While the Congress was busy demonstrating its lack of respect for democracy, freedom of speech, yet again, some in the Mainstream Media (MSM), gleefully took the words spread by ‘PMO sources’, reported an ‘apology’ news without fact-checking. As is well known, most of the Indian Media, has either been (/ become) the handmaiden of the rulers, and, have  tried to massage the news so that the ass of top bosses is always well covered! Bloggers, and Social Media activists have enough records to show how some of these media folks crawl when they are only asked to bend! So, a NO apology is a BIG, SHOCKING news! Mr. Simon Denyer had a field day standing by his story, denying apologies, clarifying to umpteen people! 

The wonderful technical capability provided by Social Media (SM), an "amoral technology", if you believe in Ms.Sagarika Ghose's gospel, is exploited to the hilt by those fed up with hypocrisy, double standards in MSM, and ruling establishment. The activist world once again challenged the gang of “jee huzoors” of MSM. Some TV news channels were forced to debate the WaPo article, and on a few channels no spokespersons of Cong or Govt made an appearance.  But the letter by PMO official, Mr. PankajPachauri, stating the ‘objections’ of the govt, along with the rebuttal by Mr. Denyer, were promptly published by The Washinton Post. This once again exposed the nervousness, or hyper sensitivity to even mild criticism of the govt, PM, and super-PM! The letter was very poorly drafted, probably in a nervous, tense state, by its author in PMO. And the rejoinder by the reporter puts the ball firmly back in Mr. Pachauri’s court! Will he respond, or, let it pass? We shall know in a day or two. Hope there won’t be any secret orders to block access, and restrict permission to foreign news organization, as a fall out of this article - to avoid spread of “hate-news” & “rumors”, the favorite terms of Congress these days!

Last evening, even as the discussions on the Washington Post article were not over on the channels, definitely not so, on SM like Twitter, we got to see one more incident of how the PMO’s media advisers work or react to what they get to read, listen. 

This post is an attempt to look at the working of the Communications Adviser to the PMO, Mr. Pankaj Pachauri in the light of the above as well as a few more discoveries from his tweeter Time Line. There's absolutely nothing personal, no enmity, no agenda. The intent is to see a PMO that's efficient, that's supportive of the PM, and that one can be proud of (irrespective of our person ideological or party preferences). I am willing to correct and update this post, should Mr. Pankaj Pachauri or anyone from govt shares information that tells me what I have written is incorrect / incomplete, so far as the facts are concerned. My inferences may / may not change! I did try to draw his attention last night on the following incident. As of this hour (5:30 PM, 6th Sept), I have no twitter response. I do hope he will find some time to write to me. Enough of background and disclaimer! 
Now to the action!

Last night,  I got a tweet of Mr. Devjyot Ghoshal, special correspondent with Business Standard, on my T/L via, via retweets, by ever alert Mr. Sachin Dikshit (@ssachin_d), and Bhartiya Agnostic (@BharatiyaAgnosti). 

It reads: 

@DevjyotGhoshal: In case you want more examples of how shoddy @PMOIndia media team is, see slide 12 of this official 

His teaser was quite inviting to make me open the slide, and to say the least, I was shocked to see how someone in PMO could create such a slide and share. My reaction was due to the image used on this slide. Without really bothering to go thru the T/L of either @PMOIndia, or Mr.Ghoshal, I contested it, and asked how can he say its an official document, and whether there’s any proof of it being made by a PMO official.

It led to a healthy discussion, and in no time, Mr. Ghoshal and BharatiyaAgnosti came with the details of how they came across it. It was in a re-tweet by the @PMOIndia (official PMO handle) and @PankajPachauri on 1st Sept’12. I thank all of them for proving they had in fact checked the details. Its a healthy contrast to what we have been seeing of late among some MSM to break the news first even on twitter! They pronounce death of some people who have not died, they flash apologies on behalf of others, when none was made!

It was a re-tweet of @UPAGovt twitter id's tweet, mentioned below.

It reads as:

It was sent at: 1:40 PM ; on, 1 Sep 12 by @UPAGovt

The source material for the slide set has come from the PMO website: 
This link was tweeted by @PMOIndia (official!) handle on 31/08/12 at 9:10 PM. 

It reads:

Full transcript of Prime Minister's press conference on NAM, Pakistan and coal allocations -

A person who goes by the identity “India2014” created this slide set, using the PM office Press Release of the interaction the journalists accompanying the PM had on his return from Tehran, mentioned above. This person  uploads it onto his/her a/c on SlideShare website at the URL mentioned above. So far, so good! You may observe that its an anonymous account as per details visible on Slideshare. (I have taken screen shots). 

On the same day at 1:40 PM, "@UPAGovt" tweeted the link to mentioning the @PMO India handle. This twet then promptly gets re-tweeted by the @PMOIndia and @PankajPachauri handles. I do not have the time stamp data of when the @PMOIndia and @PankajPachauri handles re-tweeted it. Twitter does not show those details currently. 

It may be possible that Twitter account "@UPAGovt" and SlideShare account "India2014" are run by the same person. Or, if they are different persons, I am sure, at least, they know each other (very?) well. Otherwise, one cannot pickup a particular slide set and send it to the PMOIndia. I say this is because India2014 does NOT have any followers at the time of my writing. So, how did @UPAGovt come to know of the existence of such a slide-set on the PM's speech? I guess you can smell the link between persons behind these ids.

Now the question, who is this @UPAGovt and why Mr. Pankaj Pachauri chose to Re-tweet this slide set? Apparently, Mr. Pachauri has NOT seen ALL the slides. I am 100% sure. If he had seen this slide # 12, he probably would not have Re-tweeted the tweet of @UPAGovt. He not only Re-tweets it from his handle, but the same tweet is also re-tweeted by the PMO handle. I presume the PMO handle is NOT operated by the PM directly. It has to be somebody in his office. It may be Mr. Pankaj Pachauri, or someone who is under his supervision. Otherwise, this re-tweet can’t be explained. I hope Mr. Pachauri clarifies to me on this point. (Note: This tweet has seen 18 re-tweets, 10 favorites so far.). Mr. Pachauri has re-tweeted a few other tweets of @UPAGovt, on some earlier occasions (on 22nd and 23rd August). I see nothing wrong, nor am I raising objection on them. But, it tells there is some twitter familiarity with this handle. A scan of @UPAGovt's followers revealed that Mr. Pankaj Pachauri is one of its followers. I did not find any journalist following it, which suggests that its NOT a official handle of the UPA govt or Congress party. I expect Mr. Pachauri or @UPAGovt to clarify in this regard. 

As we saw in the image above, this particular slide-set has an objectionable line on BJP, the Principal Opposition Party in Parliament, I feel it was imprudent on the part of PMO office, Mr. Pankaj Pachauri to tweet / re-tweet this slide set. Isn't the PM's office different from the politician Manmohan Singh's office? 

Had the re-tweet been from Mr. Pankaj Pachauri’s own handle, rather than, the PM’s official twitter handle, the damage is limited, and one can let it pass as personal opinion. The same argument holds good had those lines been tweeted by a Congress party functionary like Mr. Digivjay Singh or Shashi Tharoor. Now, can you say the same about it when its tweeted from PM’s official handle? 

Is the occasion right to say “But these people stall it. Vote out BJP, Preserve Democracy!”? (Note: I will have ZERO objection, had this NOT been re-tweeted by PMO). The issue is the use of official handles of PM, PM's media adviser (who is now twitter certified, due to his position in PMO) to give voice to such opinions. Does this not show the PM used his official position, and machinery to express his HATRED for  BJP? On what grounds, can the PM / PP say or agree that BJP is NOT democratic? Is it NOT a serious accusation against BJP? Again, these charges & counter charges are acceptable if traded as political parties, not as functionaries of Legislative, using GoI infrastructure. Too much to demand? Haven't we been too lax all these years? Isn't that resulting in so much mess, so much bad press? Let's not even talk of how difficult it has become for the "aam admi", whom this govt wanted to put on a pedestal. But, many have not even had a good coffin too, having to end their lives due to many faulty policies, inflation, etc Those are tragedies, for which no one sheds even crocodile tears these days. A suicide of a farmer, a mother who kills her children, then herself, does not shock anyone. Even compensation for victims is not paid on time, and many a times, delayed so much and paid only on paying bribes. But, these are different issues. Not something that Mr. Pachauri has to bother. 

The PMOIndia twitter handle is followed by many embassies, leaders of other nations, journalists of national & international media, shouldn't Mr. Pachauri been more sensible in re-tweeting stuff which has a political hate-speech tone? What kind of an image such indiscretion project about our PM, and, more importantly, about our nation? How can the PMO officials be so casual in their approach to sharing news or information? Does this not require serious review of how the PMO functions in its media department?

Lets look at one more incident here. Many, including myself, had seen it, re-tweeted it, and let it pass. But, on second thoughts it calls for closer examination. 

On 25th Aug at 7:26 PM Mr. Pachauri tweeted to Mr. Milind Khandekar, managing Editor of ABP news -  (emphasis added by me) -

@milindkhandekar All the black faces, black minds, black hearts and black Twitter handles are out in the open-- #ThankYouTwitter

These words ARE Mr. Pachauri's views about those Indians who protested peacefully on Social Media, the Govt’s shoddy censor action on Social Media, some websites, many of whom / which had NOTHING to do with Assam situation, or the scare in other parts that led to NE people fleeing.

Thank God, he did not re-tweet it from the PMO handle! I may even have let it pass as his person opinion, had he not been Media Adviser to PMO. A few tweeple @SSachin_D, @Alok_Bhatt, @AmritHallan, @Addyshi2, and @ProudHindu123 rightly objected to this tweet. 

In the light of what happened yesterday, I thought let us re-look at it and think a bit deeper.

Doesn't that tweet reflect poorly on the Media Adviser that he has such utter disregard for democratic means of protesting? That he calls millions of Indians as BLACK HEARTS, BLACK MINDS? And, he does NOT apologize for his absolutely unacceptable remarks? And, he is a Media Adviser in a government which is trying to STAMP OUT HATE-SPEECH, RUMORS! Does he even realize the folly of his blunder? Isn't it tragic that he comes from the MSM which tom-toms its right for free speech, and at the same time wants trampling of the FREE SPEECH of THE MASSES ON SOCIAL MEDIA? Haven't they come to define HATE SPEECH as anything that's critical, anyone critical of the government, the pro-establishment elements in MSM? If such is the mindset of people in charge of media, policy, what do we as citizens expect to get out of the PMO? Who should own up the blame for a bad image of the Prime Minister? Is it the fault of aam admi (common citizen) to have elected you? Or, is it your fault to have such officials in the media department in the highest office of this country? 

I sincerely wish Mr. Pachauri introspects and responds to this post. I have raised serious objections on his being able to do justice to the job. Do you know why? Mr. Salman Khurshid, the Union Law Minister had this to say with respect to media communication & PR of the Government!  

A few days ago (on Sep 4, 2012, 10.54PM IST, per PTI report) , Mr. Khurshid lamented  that the Government is losing 'communication battle'

I quote:

NEW DELHI: The government is  "losing the communication battle" because its skills do not match up to the proliferation of media where many people are "screaming and shouting that something has gone wrong" without explaining the basis, Law minister Salman Khurshid said here today.
"The media has transformed itself media, electronic media, print media there has been a proliferation of media. And the communication skills that we need for modern media, we don't have, unfortunately. Therefore we are losing the communication battle," Khurshid said.
He was speaking at the Global summit organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

I do not know if he had any premonition of what's going to happen, but, apparently he has seen something closely to say these words!  

FINALLY, here are questions for those who matter. I hope someone in PMO reads, responds, takes corrective measures. I wish to be an optimist!

Here are some questions (Sorry, if some are repetitive!) to Mr. Pankaj Pachauri, the PMO officials of UPA government, and (spokespersons of) Congress. It will be a bonus if Dr. Manmohan Singh gets to know! Hamaari ek khwaish, ki woh sunein, aur bolen, ek aam admi ki baat!

  1. Do you subscribe to the words on the image of the slide # 12?
  2. Do you believe the PM’s official Twitter Id can be used for sharing any partisan view?
  3. Do you believe that BJP is a danger to democracy?
  4. Do you think to preserve democracy, BJP must be voted out? BTW, BJP is not even ruling India, at this point in time. Its Congress party led UPA – just in case, anyone forgot!
  5. What kind of media policy, procedures are adopted by PMO in interacting with Main Stream Media? And, interacting with Social Media?
  6. Do you re-tweet (or, publish anywhere else) information shared by any person without verifying? In this particular case what kinds of review or validation was done?
  7. What is the official position of this twitter handle @UPAGovt? Is it run by anyone in the know of PMO? Or, Mr. Pankaj Pachauri? I have seen Mr. Pachauri re-tweeting a few of its tweets earlier too. Also, there was some objection by some in the govt on the use of anonymous handles. Then, how does re-tweeting @UPAGovt tweets pass the expectation?
  8. I feel highly let down by Mr. Pachauri's role as the Media Adviser. Since he advises, and operates the PM’s social media accounts, I feel there has been damage to the PM’s image is more from within, due to ineffective portrayal of govt work (Mr. Salman Khurshid too says it!).
  9. The PM is working actively to get many things going, with whatever constraints the party president, colleagues, coalition partners impose on him. The least one expects to see is that he has a PM Office that he can trust, and expect them to do justice to his trust in them.
  10. The denial of interview requests to Mr. Simon Denyer by many in PMO, and subsequent rejoinder by Mr. Pachauri, and the rebuttal by Mr. Denyer shows that PMO did not handle the matter efficiently.
  11. What kind of action does the Prime Minister proposes to take to clean up the PMO media department? In my view, we have crossed the stage of asking should the PM take action, or, should he forgive and let it pass. 
  12. Whatever may be the coverage in Caravan, Time, The Washington Post they have to be welcomed, reviewed, corrective measures taken that express shock, anger, and other feelings. It is unreasonable to expect all MSM folks to behave like some preferred MSMs who act as pet dogs! 
Finally, I wish to voice what many concerned Indians want to say to Dr. Manmohan Singh. You still have an year or two left before the polls. Please, for the sake of aam-admi, speak up, get rid of the cobwebs, clean up the dead-wood, and let the ENGINE of government run. We can't afford to have divisive bills stalling progress. The nation prospers by cohesive, efficient action, not by designs that are meant to divide and garner votes. I am not a Congress sympathizer. But, I am quite concerned about healthy politics, clean administration, bright future, transparent, citizen friendly laws. And, I am sure, every right thinking Indian, irrespective of ideology, demands an equal, level playing field to live, progress, have a peaceful life. 

Note: 1. I have taken screen shots of the twitter T/L from the official @PMOIndia, @PankajPachauri, and @UPAGovt handles to support the observations made in this article. Hope no one deletes them to prove I am wrong! 
2. I thought of calling this post - "Mr. Pankaj Pachauri, your time’s up!". But, I let him and the PM, decide it!

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