Thursday, January 19, 2012


Recording of a talk given by me at the Chennai Shala of the Taskshila Foundation on November 6,2011.



The buzz word is no longer “Breaking News”. It is “Breaking Tweets” and “Breaking Blogs”, which have started disseminating news and comments faster than the TV channels.

2. Journalists no longer first rush to policy and opinion makers to find out their views on important developments. They rush to the Twitter sites of important personalities to find out what they have tweeted about such developments. Personal interactions continue to be important for journalists, but twitter and other microblog interactions are assuming increasing importance in assessing public opinion.

3. Between the first Gulf War of 1991 when satellite TV became the first source of news and interpretation and President Barack Obama’s election campaign of 2008 when microblogs started competing with TV channels for catching public attention the “Breaking News” syndrome held sway.

4. Now, “Breaking Tweets” and “Breaking Blogs” are becoming as important as “Breaking News” for keeping oneself informed instantaneously of what is happening around us.

5.At an interaction on Media and the Internet held at Beijing on January 19,2012, officials of the Chinese Government admitted that microblogs have become an important platform for disseminating news and views and an important bridge between the State and the public.

6. There is now a recognition that public opinion is increasingly and better reflected in the TV news channels and microblogs than in the print media. For the traditional, old generation elite, the print media continues to be an important source of reliable news and in-depth analysis. But, for GenNext of the civil society and the Internet-bred elite, which have no time or patience for esoteric analyses, the TV news channels and microblogs have become the preferred tools for knowing and thinking.

7. 2011 was a turning point in the evolution of our media strategies. Those who realised the importance of TV news channels and microblogs in reaching out to the public and mobilising public opinion did better as political and social activists than those who continued to be stuck to the print media.

8. We saw dramatic evidence of this in the waves made by the Anna Hazare Movement Against Corruption. The skilful use of the new media and the TV channels by the advisers of Anna contributed in no small measure to the initial success of the movement. The movement might have since lost support on the ground, but it continues to be as popular and as vibrant in the virtual world as it was before.

9.While the non-governmental world is now making good use of the TV channels and the social media networks, of which microblogs are an important component, Governmental policy-makers still treat the growing community of TV journos and netizens with suspicion and disdain. There has been no re-thinking of media strategies appropriate to the mix of the real and virtual worlds in which we live. Even China has realised that a turning point has arrived in the evolution of the media strategies and is trying to re-shape its media strategies to make them appropriate to the rapidly changing media landscape. It has realised that the virtual public (netizens) is as important as the real public ( the man in the street) and is brain-storming on ways of dealing with this. A report disseminated by the State-owned Xinhua news agency on this subject is annexed.

10. The realisation that the media strategies of our Prime Minister’s office have become archaic in a media world which has already changed beyond recognition and continues to change is reflected in the resignation of Shri Harish Khare as the media advisor to our PM on January 19 and the appointment of Shri Pankaj Pachauri as Director (Communications) in the PMO with the task of proposing suitable media strategies to deal with the print media, the TV news channels and social media networks.

11. Any media strategy, to be effective, has to be proactive. Shri Khare was widely viewed as essentially a reactive person who was slow to take off---if he took off at all--- in crisis situations which tended to reflect negatively on the credibility of the Prime Minister. We saw this dramatically during the ill-fated debate on the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha on December 28 last.

12. There was a lively media interest in this debate--- in the real as well as the virtual worlds. There were reports flashed by TV channels of a Government stratagem to disrupt the debate by injecting controversial issues in order to avoid a vote on the amendments. After the fiasco of the debate, the TV channels went hammer and tongs at the Government for not being sincere on the Lokpal issue.

13. These charges and the resulting public perceptions had a damaging effect on the credibility of the Government and the leadership of the Prime Minister. One would have expected a senior journalist like Shri Khare to have bestirred himself and interacted vigorously with the TV channels to correct the perceptions. He did not do so. He just watched helplessly as the TV channels and the world of the microblogs went to town with one sensational report after another and with one sensational Tweet after another.

14.Unhappiness over his perceived lethargy is believed to have been one of the reasons for the induction of Shri Pachauri. But will he be any the better? One has to wait for the results. Shri Pachauri has the reputation of being a good TV professional and an excellent News Editor and anchor.

15.But to be effective as media adviser to the PM, the incumbent must have the stature that will compel attention and respect from the PM himself and the public and a vision to modernise media strategies. Does Shri Pachauri have that kind of stature and vision? It remains to be seen.

16. To be fair to Shri Pachauri, it has to be underlined that however brilliant Shri Pachauri may be, he cannot succeed unless the PM rids himself of his media-shyness, comes out of his shell and takes the lead in interacting with the media.

17. The leadership in media relations has to come from the PM. In the absence of such leadership, the role of the media adviser will remain restricted and problematic. ( 20-1-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: Twitter : @SORBONNE75 )


Government "must utilize blogs better"

(Source: Xinhua) 20-1-12

  By Zhao Yinan and Wang Huazhong

  Minister stresses importance of keeping public fully informed

  BEIJING, Jan. 19 (Xinhuanet) --The government should better utilize micro blogs to provide information and improve transparency, a senior official said.

  In the latest call for Party and government agencies to reach an increasingly Internet-savvy population, Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, said on Wednesday that agencies should open micro blog accounts to better understand public opinion and to respond to issues of public concern.

  Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, talks to reporters at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday. The coming year will see an enhancement of China's engagement with the international community so that the world can have a better understanding of the country, Wang said. [Photo/China Daily]

  Describing micro blogs as an "important platform" for information and "a bridge" between the government and the public, Wang urged officials to keep their blogs up to date.

  "Government micro blogs should provide information useful to the people, such as information about commerce, daily life and education," he said.

  Micro blogs are increasingly popular in China, which has more than 500 million Internet users, more than any other country and far greater than the total population of the European Union.

  More than 330 million Chinese people are registered micro blog users and at least 150 million entries are made daily.

  Government agencies and Party departments at all levels have opened more than 50,000 micro blog accounts, and many of them help officials communicate with the general public.

  Wang cited one particular micro blog as an example.

  Chen Shiqu, head of the Ministry of Public Security's anti-trafficking task force, "has done tangible things for the public", Wang said.

  Chen opened a micro blog on Dec 12, 2010 after being told that it would help authorities combat human trafficking, and this turned out to be true, he said. More than 2,000 tip-offs have been submitted to the blog, he said.

  Chen also used the platform to raise public awareness of various legislation and show how his office can help reunite families.

  Chen's micro blog has 1.36 million followers. These are people that he could not reach by conventional means, he said.

  Zhang Jianshu, director of information service at the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, however, said making a government micro blog popular is not easy.

  The bureau opened its micro blog in November 2010 and has so far posted about 170 articles of information and has 48,000 followers.

  Netizens don't respond much to our postings and we are trying to overcome this problem, Zhang told China Daily earlier.

  An industry expert said government agencies should not open micro blogs just for show.

  "The government should make full use of existing communication channels, while keeping pace with the latest technology," said Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

  Internet supervision

  With the growing popularity of micro blogs, Wang said regulations, such as registration, are needed to ensure the "rapid and healthy growth of the Internet".

  A policy was introduced in Beijing last month requiring the names of micro bloggers to be registered. This was later extended to other major cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

  Wang said the policy now only requires that new micro blog users register "backstage" with their real name. This means that website administrators will see their names instead of Net users.

  "The micro blog has changed the way we exchange information," but irrational, negative and harmful opinions can also be expressed, he said.

  "Pornography, fraud and rumors" can be found on the Net and this can harm society, he said.

  China established the State Internet Information Office in May last year to oversee cyberspace. The office, headed by Wang, aims to coordinate and supervise online content as well as investigate and punish websites violating laws and regulations.

  Zhang Yan contributed to this story.

  (Source: China Daily)