Media outreach: PM to meet editors Wednesday

New Delhi: Under attack from civil society activists, the media and some of his own party members, over perceived communication gap over critical issues, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided on a media outreach plan that kicks off with a meeting with some senior editors Wednesday.

The prime minister will meet a group of editors of regional and national dailies Wednesday, government sources told IANS.

Manmohan Singh has so far held only three nationally televised press conferences in the last seven years has been prime minister but has not been known to give interviews to the Indian media. He last spoke to editors of some TV channels four months ago.

With the opposition upping the ante over a host of issues ranging from inflation to corruption ahead of the monsoon session of parliament that begins Aug 1, the government and the ruling Congress party have worked out a new communication strategy.

Part of an image makeover plan, the new strategy will include frequent meetings between the prime minister and senior editors of both print and electronic media. It could also entail the prime minister meeting senior journalists almost every week, informed sources said.

The media outreach plan is being worked out to dispel the widespread impression that the prime minister has been unusually quiet, and possibly avoiding the public glare, amid increasingly shrill accusations about non-performance and malfeasance in his administration.

The image of the UPA government has taken a battering in recent months following scams like the sale of 2G spectrum and deals struck ahead of the Commonwealth Games as well as debates over the Lokpal bill.

The government’s failure to communicate was a subject of animated discussion at a closed door meeting of the Congress party top brass recently, a well-placed source disclosed.

The disaffection in the party has been brewing for some time. Party insiders point out that Home Minister P. Chidambaram was only airing the party’s discontent when he said in a recent interview that people expected their top leader to be more communicative.

“…But yes, I acknowledge that lots of people would like the prime minister to step up to the plate, so as to say, and speak more often. But that is the style of the person,” Chidambaram told NDTV when asked why Manmohan Singh did not speak on the issue of bringing the prime minister under the purview of the proposed Lokpal.

“There is disquiet in the party and among senior leaders about the government’s communication failure vis-a-vis anti-corruption protests and on issues of policy,” Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst, told IANS.

“It signals a need for a change in the style of leadership and the style of communication,” he said.

Not all agree. Manish Tewari, an MP from Ludhiana and a spokesperson of the Congress, said: “The PM has a style and believes that his work should speak for itself. By temperament and personality, he is not the kind to speak much.”

His aides say that Manmohan Singh has spoken when required, has met the media more than many of his predecessors and does not necessarily have to copy the “American style” of public speaking and communication.

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