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Poor Communication let India Down
|by Joydeep Gupta|
The Indian government delegation at the Copenhagen climate summit held two press conferences during the 11-day conference, one exclusively for Indian journalists, and one at the main press conference room. In contrast, the Brazilian delegation held a press conference for everyone almost every day; the Chinese not only did that but also set up an information centre where anyone could go anytime, ask a question and be assured that there would be an answer.
The US and EU information centers had press conferences going for much of the day, every day, apart from daily briefings.
There were 40-50 Indian journalists covering the summit. If they wanted to know what the government of India thought of a particular development, they had to run to the delegation office, hoping a senior member of the delegation would be present and would explain the position. Or they had to ring someone in the hope that the call would be taken.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh -- leading the delegation in the second week -- is known to be media savvy, but even his comments on what was going on had to be on a catch-as-catch-can basis.
"Why don't the Indians ever want to talk," was the constant question from many of the 3,500 journalists gathered from around the world to cover the summit. In the absence of authentic information, speculation continued.
It plumbed the depths twice, first when a news agency mistakenly reported that India had walked out of a meeting at the summit, and again when a number of TV channels made the same mistake, this time involving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both times, all that had happened was that the leaders had walked out of range of the CCTV camera, the only source of information for journalists from the main plenary hall, where they were not allowed for reasons of space and security.
Exactly the same thing had happened with the Brazilians and the Chinese delegations as well, but their media did not need to speculate. They knew where to go and who would answer their question. The Indian delegation, in contrast, never appointed an official spokesperson, as far as the journalists were told.
They were told to send their local telephone numbers and e-mail addresses and that someone would get back to them. It did happen sometimes, and some officials in the delegation were enormously helpful, but it all worked on an ad hoc basis. Some journalists tried in the first week to get the officials to hold a daily briefing. The officials agreed, but were missing at the appointed time.
Ramesh held his only press conference in his hotel on the Sunday in the middle of the summit, and only some Indian journalists were informed, over phone and not on e-mail as as promised. Some were out of town, others were given the wrong timing, with the result that they travelled for over an hour, only to find that the briefing was over.
The second press conference was held on the morning of the last day, and there was great expectation that there would finally be an authentic briefing on the Indian position. But no one showed up in the press conference room where the briefing had been scheduled, and there was no word of apology to the assembled journalists either, an unprecedented event. Two hours later, the briefing was held in another room which had hitherto been used by NGOs for their press conferences.
Still, the media went rushing in to find Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao briefing on a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that morning. That was followed by Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Climate Change Shyam Saran recounting what had happened in the summit till then, without really giving any fresh information or insight.
Under the circumstances, it was no surprise that Ramesh found himself mobbed by TV cameras whenever he stepped into the corridors at the summit venue or was trying to have a meal.
Why was the Indian delegation so media shy? One senior delegate said: "Why should we talk? The G77 is giving you our position regularly. We don't have a different position."
As it happened, India did come out of the summit with a position substantially different from that of many countries in the Group of 77.
(Joydeep Gupta covered the summit for IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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