New Delhi: As India grapples with the massive surge in Covid-19 cases, with a shortage of beds and oxygen and increasing fatalities only compounding the problems, the Narendra Modi government is working on different strategies to counter the criticism and bad press it has been getting surrounding the pandemic, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the government told ThePrint that Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Prakash Javadekar, along with Secretary Amit Khare, have been holding video-conferences every day with senior government officials for over a week now, to discuss the negative press against the government and ways to counter them.
At such a meeting Tuesday, MyGov shared a presentation with officials suggesting a robust communication strategy to ensure the government is seen as “sensitive, bold, responsive and hardworking”.
The presentation, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint, highlighted that the government communication should comprise larger use of data, infographics, videos and testimonials, amplification of the government’s messaging on social media platforms. It also suggested that social media influencers are leveraged to spread the government’s word.
MyGov shared its presentation at a virtual media and social media workshop held Tuesday on effective communication in the times of the pandemic, the sources said. Chaired by the I&B minister, the workshop was attended by over 350 senior government officials.
The sources said the negative publicity received across print, television and online media has been a major cause for concern for the government, and that is being discussed extensively during the frequent virtual conferences lasting for about 45 minutes.
For instance, at one of these meetings, the I&B minister expressed displeasure over the inadequate government messaging during the crash of CoWin portal during the initial days of the vaccination registration process last month, an official familiar with the discussions said.
During the reviews, the official added, it was also discussed that there should be specific Covid-related press statements that should have specific references to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, such as usage of phrases like “under the leadership of PM Modi” or “as decided by PM Modi”.
It was also discussed that high quality videos of the efforts put in by the armed forces to contain the pandemic should be shared and highlighted on various social media sites to create a positive messaging.
“There were also concerns raised not only about the massive negative media coverage in the global press of India’s handing of the crisis, but also about some Indian publications republishing them as they are or extracts from them,” a second official told ThePrint.
Among other media coverage discussed in the meetings, according to the official, was “positive news coverage” by the state-owned Doordarshan.
ThePrint reached the I&B ministry spokesperson via email for a comment. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Communication strategies being planned
Since the beginning of the devastating second Covid wave, the Modi government has received a lot of bad press over what was perceived as its “mismanagement” of the pandemic, including allowing the Kumbh mela and election rallies that fuelled the surge in the cases.
It has also been criticised for an apparent lack of preparedness to deal with a second wave of the pandemic, with both the national and the foreign media highlighting inadequate oxygen and hospital infrastructure.
The Press Council of India (PCI) had earlier issued an advisory, which said foreign content should be only published after due verification by Indian media houses, drawing flak from various quarters including the Editors Guild of India.
Highly placed sources in the government said the departments under the I&B ministry are keeping a tab and collating all negative news reports and opinion pieces across media, which are being circulated within the government.
The second official quoted above said there has also been an emphasis on countering what the government feels is fake or misleading news by way of issuing timely rejoinders.
At the workshop on Tuesday, government officials were told that authentic and real time information should be ensured during pandemic.
The MyGov presentation mentioned above highlighted that the strategy should involve effectively communicating to people the different steps taken by the government to manage the pandemic and monitoring the effectiveness of the outreach through a feedback mechanism.
It also emphasised that a positive image of the government should be created by way of highlighting its achievements and putting out positive stories.
The presentation at the workshop is also learnt to have highlighted the importance of unified approach to government communication, ensuring real time updates of the critical events of the day to ministries, use of other social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, aside from promoting key government decisions, campaigns and cabinet decisions on Twitter.
It also highlighted the most and least engaging posts on different social media platforms.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.