Ordinarily, put any Prime Minister in a one-to-one interview with a journalist, and 99 times out of 100 he would come out well, because the journalist would be overawed, and would feel obliged, and also because on any given day, a Prime Minister generally has more information than a journo. And, it is not too difficult to "negotiate", and get to know the questions beforehand, and be prepared beforehand. Even some one as argumentative as David Frost was putty in Nixon hands, if one sees the documentary "Frost/Nixon".
But when a Prime Minister takes on two dozen editors, and that too, on live TV, group dynamics take over: they have to demonstrate to each other, and to the world, how leonine each one is, and how "independent" they are, and so, they proceed to outdo each other in aggression. After all, they have nothing to lose: all the suppressed anger at the humiliation each one get from his or her proprietor can be safely channeled and let out, in a heroic amount of indignation and independence. The Prime Minister (atleast not this one) is not going to order raids on their paper or channel, or cut off advertising.
That's what happened today: the Prime Minister was interrogated, and came off apologetic, eager to please, defensive, in front of a group of journalists who skewered him. Apart from the format of the interaction, the second problem, which anybody who is familiar with TV knows, is what kind of TV persona the subject has. Since the PM is not Ronald Reagan, with quick repartees, or Obama, with his made-for-TV eloquence, or even combative, the PR set-up, headed by Information Adviser, Harish Khare, should not gone in the first place for a televised event of this kind at all, in the first place.
But then, Harish Khare has been a press journalist, and after today's performance, it is clear that a newspaper journalist has no business to be Information Adviser in today's TV age. If Prime Ministers before had HK Dua or Baru or Ashok Tandon, it was because TV had still not achieved the kind of prominence it does today.
If the whole idea was to project the message that the Prime Minister and the government are in control, and to tell the government's side of the story, it did not work: it seemed at times that all the editors out there had come off straight from the daily 3 pm BJP briefing to grill the Prime Minister.
Not even Doordarshan was on the PM's side, with its "senior" editor asking a question on, what else, corruption. Neelam Sharma is a TV presenter, with no reporting experience, and I wonder whose idea it was to send her to the "breakfast' meeting. A big number of anchors and presenters on DD News are still selected with zero journalism experience, with their looks being paramount, in the old-fashioned way, and boy, did it show....
All in all, a worthy successor to Musharraf's breakfast meeting.......