Modi breaks the ice with media at first meet

Indian prime minister addressed more than 200 journalists at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, pledging to meet them more often.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 25 Oct 2014, 5:40 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 2:53 AM

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to journalists on Saturday for the first time since taking office, aiming to mend his rocky relations with the Press.

The right-wing leader has never given a Press conference and prefers using state media as well as his huge Facebook and Twitter following to communicate with the masses.

But in an apparent break from the approach passed on by his predecessors — who similarly shunned regular media interactions — he addressed more than 200 journalists at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, pledging to meet them more often.

“I am looking for ways to strengthen my relationship with you and... I will try to find time to meet you more often,” said the Hindu nationalist, an announcement welcomed by journalists who have complained of a lack of two-way communication with the new government.

After an eight-minute speech in which he thanked the media for its coverage of his ‘Clean India’ campaign — aimed at tidying up public spaces — he stepped off the dais to shake hands and briefly chat with top editors and reporters, who scrambled to pose for “selfies” with the tech-savvy premier.

But Modi faced flak from critics for not taking any questions from the media.

He has carefully controlled his communication strategy since coming to power, mostly choosing the state-backed Doordarshan broadcaster and All India Radio to address India’s 1.2 billion-strong population.

He is also immensely popular on Facebook and Twitter — where he has 24 million “likes” and 7.3 million followers respectively — and uses these websites as platforms to express his views and make announcements.

Journalists are often asked to refer to official press statements and Modi’s Twitter feed for news, leaving private news organisations grumbling over Modi’s one-way interaction which they say offers no debate and shields him from tough questions.

Despite this, he often criticised his predecessor Manmohan Singh for being on “silent mode” during his Congress party’s two-term rule. Singh addressed three Press briefings during his decade-long stint as prime minister.

“Modi is not media shy,” wrote Rahul Shrivastava, senior political affairs editor at NDTV news channel, in a blog earlier this month.

“His engagement with them (media) will be controlled by him — provider-controlled information, which is filtered and aimed at crafting or adding to an image,” said Shrivastava, who has been covering the prime minister’s office for more than two decades.

Analysts date back Modi’s troubled relationship with the media to the 2002 religious riots in his home state of Gujarat that left at least 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time, was questioned by national and international media over his role in the carnage, with rights groups accusing him of turning a blind eye.

Modi has denied any wrongdoing over the violence and has never been charged. He abruptly walked out of a 2007 television interview when asked if he regretted the 2002 riots.

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