This is not an ideal situation. As someone who began his life in media, I do believe that ideally political parties should cooperate with all media. But ideally the media too should be unbiased. It can have its editorial position on one or the other issue. But it cannot sell itself to a single party, government and ideology.
Once this happens, once this editorial judgement is exercised – or transacted, because, let’s face it, it is a transaction – then aggrieved parties have no choice but to walk away. There is no point gracing and offering credibility to a television channel that only wants to mock a party and its legitimate views. And simply because these disagree with the government.
This is how I – and many of my colleagues in the opposition – feel about the media and television scene in Delhi today. There is an atmosphere of silencing non-compliant voices that is truly scary and well-orchestrated. I was too young during the Emergency, but I have never seen anything like this in my years in politics.
The propaganda jugalbandi between the government and a powerful section of the media was apparent in the build up to the GST launch. If you disagreed, you were not going to be allowed to speak. We in the Trinamool Congress had to negotiate this minefield very carefully as we tried to get our message across.
How did we do it? Mamata Banerjee wrote two powerful posts on her Facebook page. These laid down the opposition to the manner in which GST was being rolled out by the government. The issues she raised were similar to the guidelines she had given me when I was appointed to the Parliamentary Select Committee on GST. The Facebook posts were widely read and appreciated. A number of opposition MPs read the posts and told me they had taken points from Mamata Banerjee’s arguments.
Next the Bengal Finance and Industry Minister, my distinguished economist colleague Amit Mitra, gave carefully chosen one-to-one interviews to media platforms. It is a sad fact that such a vetting process had to be undergone, but given the government's oppressive influence on Big Media in Delhi today, we had no choice.
Finally, we had to communicate using the Trinamool digital presence: Trinamool twitter handles and those of key party leaders, the party Facebook page and pages of key leaders. Over the next few weeks, party workers will convey these misgivings about the GST rollout to ordinary citizens across Bengal.
In the end, we managed successfully. The Trinamool position on GST was not just conveyed but appreciated, and found resonance in Bengal and other parts of the country. We did this in an atmosphere where an unwritten censorship is leading to the government being able to block authoritative dissenting voices from crucial media platforms. So we had to bypass traditional media avenues and spread our message and make our point through independent and innovative mechanisms.
Is this the future of political messaging, given the suffocating media space in Delhi? Is this how we will have to fight the 2019 election? Those are questions that we can let rest today. But they will need to be answered in the coming days. The GST rollout and the propaganda offensive by the BJP government has given us a taste of what we are up against.
(Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.)
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