GoM’s good news plan: Colour-code journalists, ‘neutralise’ the negative

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FROM a strategy to “neutralise” those who set “false narratives” against the Government to roping in “right-wing parties” from other countries to seek “common ground;” from alleged “colour coding” of journalists depending on how close they are to the government to a “mix of truth and untruth” in news — these are among a range of suggestions in a purported report by a Group of Ministers on how to improve “government communication.”

This 97-page document, first made public by Caravan, shows that most of the nine ministers, who were part of the GoM, flagged “negative” coverage of the government on online and international news platforms and called for supporting journalists “pro our line of thought.”

The Ministers included: Union I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar; Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad; External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar; Textiles Minister Smriti Irani; Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi; Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Sports and Youth Affairs Kiren Rijiju; MoS (Independent Charge), Civil Aviation, and Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri; MoS Finance Anurag Thakur; and MoS Environment, Forest and Climate Change Babul Supriyo.

The Indian Express reached out to Prasad, Irani, Javadekar and Thakur but they were unavailable for comment.

Puri, when contacted, said: “I was a member of that committee. I don’t recall receiving any report let alone clearing any report.”

Naqvi, when contacted, said he was unaware of the report.

The purported report said the GoM held six meetings on June 14, 20, 22, 26, 28 and July 9 in 2020. Members also held meetings with “prominent personalities” on June 26 at Rijiju’s residence; a video conference with “prominent media persons” on June 23 and 24; and a video conference with “representatives of industry chambers” on June 30.

This period coincides with the start of the unwinding of the pandemic lockdown and in the wake of the June 15 Galwan incident when India lost 20 soldiers in a clash with Chinese troops. Beijing admitted last month that it had lost four of its personnel, including a battalion commander, in the clash and a fifth officer was injured.

Significantly, the report said it was decided to cap FDI in digital media to 26% to “ensure that the news reporting on digital media is not biased primarily due to its foreign investment component.” That cap was announced by the government in August 2019 and reinforced in October 2020.

The report tasked the I&B and IT ministries with “Facilitation of Digital news and OTT” and stated that a “new mechanism needs to be involved to ensure that OTT platforms become more responsible”.

Indeed, last week, the government notified new rules of a media code that empowers it to intervene and block access to information online in emergency cases and mandate compliance.

The report said it “made its 1st presentation to the Hon’ble Prime Minister who guided the GoM with his insights and gave vital inputs”.

While Prasad, according to the report, called for a “list of media personnel and prominent persons, who are pro our line of thought – both nationally and globally,” Irani recommended tracking “50 negative and 50 positive influencers.” Javadekar added that the “narrative is fuelled by around 20-30 people” and “it is very important to counter the false narratives in both national and international media.”

Puri mentioned that “productive and supportive journalists who are not working now can be roped in”. Naqvi suggested: “We should have a strategy to neutralise the people who are writing against the Government without facts and set false narratives/spread fake news.”

Thakur said that the “right wing parties of other countries need to be roped in so that some common ground could be found”.

The GoM identified 10 “big initiatives” or narratives for the government to focus on, including marking the 75th year of Indian Independence; creation of a $5 trillion economy; Atmanirbhar Bharat; Digital India; and projecting India’s soft power globally, among others.

The report claimed that on June 26, a meeting was held at Rijiju’s house, in which Naqvi was also present, along with 12 journalists. And among “observations made by the participants” were: “around 75% of media persons are impressed by the leadership” of Modi and “are ideologically with the party”; “groups should be formed of supportive editors, columnists, journalists and commentators and they should be regularly engaged”; “lack of communication has resulted in the positive things not being put in an influential manner.”

One of those who attended the June 26 meeting and is named in the report was Ravish Tiwari, Political Editor and National Bureau Chief, The Indian Express.

“The meeting was called at Minister Rijiju’s residence as a background briefing with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control,” said Tiwari. “No one mentioned anything about a GoM. When I reached, we were told that the External Affairs Minister was caught up and couldn’t make it.”

“There was some talk about lack of information-sharing about the LAC stand-off,” said Tiwari. “The Minister, based on his past experience as MoS, Home, discussed the LAC but that was off the record. I am surprised how an off-the-record briefing on LAC has been presented as part of a GoM meeting. I can’t recollect anything that was discussed which can be even remotely construed as the so-called conclusions in the report.”

The report also mentioned that during an interaction with Javadekar on June 23, national security journalist Nitin Gokhale suggested that “Journalists can be colour coded: Green — fence sitters; Black –against; and White –who support. We should support and promote favourable journalists”.

When contacted, Gokhale told The Indian Express: “I deny using the language attributed to me purportedly in a Group of Ministers Report”.

According to the report, S Gurumurthy, an RSS ideologue who is also a director on Reserve Bank of India’s Central Board, suggested during the same interaction: “News to carry mixture of truth and untruth”. He also talked about “how to change ecosystem like Pokharan, how to handle media hostility.” Despite calls and messages, Gurumurthy was unavailable for comment.

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