Mixed Media: Wanted, a social media-friendly I&B Ministry

Given the growth of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it would’ve been good to have a socially networked Information and Broadcasting Minister, writes Pradyuman Maheshwari.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: Jun 1, 2009 8:03 AM  | 5 min read
Mixed Media: Wanted, a social media-friendly I&B Ministry

I’ve been on Twitter for around a year-and-a-half now, but even though I am almost always online, I’ve tweeted just 10 times in this period. I’m not much into updating my status on Facebook or Linked In and the daily grind gives me little time to transmit any information. So what if a single tweet is not more than 140 characters.

What started as a service for friends and family to communicate stuff they were doing with a quick exchange of short messages is today a huge media platform. I’m not sure how the guys at Twitter are going to make money off the service, but like several others, I’ve been hooked. And find it rather useful to stay updated with info I’m interested via a host of people I’m connected to.

There are an equal number of people tracking my updates, but I’m pretty anti-social. As I write this on a Sunday evening, I’ve resolved to be regular, but I don’t think I will. I can respond to a hundred mails a day and am fine with one-on-one chat, but not when it’s for public display. I admire those who do and parasite on their knowledge to upgrade mine.

One such person whom I’m a fan of is Shashi Tharoor, now Minister of State for External Affairs. I’m sure Ambika Soni will make for a great minister – given that she’s quite media savvy, but Tharoor, I thought, would’ve been super for I&B even if it was as Soni’s deputy. He’s young (53), an accomplished writer (11 books, newspaper/magazine contributor and columnist) and has a reasonable television presence. There’s one more reason why Tharoor rocks: he’s a true practitioner of the new information order. Check his last 25 posts on Twitter (@shashitharoor) and you’ll appreciate why I’m saying this. The Lok Sabha Elections saw many aspirants embrace the online media via social networks, websites and SMS messaging. But here was a man who was doing it through the campaign, to the counting of votes and I’m sure even as you read this.

Last Wednesday, at 7.16 am, he wrote: “Overwhelmed today. 1st by call fm PM and Mrs Gandhi inviting me to join the Council of Ministers tomorrow, and then by the flood of congrats”.

Some 12 hours later: “Off to Rashtrapati Bhavan for swearing in. What an awe-inspiring moment, and a deeply humbling one”.

And the following morning: “End of a long day. Humbled by the responsibility of taking office as Minister of State for External Affairs”.

I personally thought that the man could’ve been an MoS with independent charge, but guess if he’s not complaining, why bother.

A couple of days later he wrote: “Took charge in South Block this morning. Strange feeling since I’ve always been a visitor there, and quite frequently too!”. And a confession: “Started off by disappointing the media who were present in large numbers. Said I wouldn’t spk on issues of substance before being briefed”. Or this one on Saturday: “The toughest part of political life is to get work done while managing to be accessible to evry voter who wants to meet/spk. How do u do it?”

He also tries to respond to as many people. To ‘worldofviresh’: “We’ve taken it up at highest poss level, PM to PM. The Australians understand how concerned we are & hv promised to act”. Or his reply to a question from user ‘gay_India’: “Personally, I think it ought to be repealed. Don’t know what govt policy is, though. Glad there have been no prosecutions for yrs”.

I’m not sure how much Tharoor would be able to Tweet as he gets into the nitty-gritty at South Block. He also needs to avoid controversies in his desire to be very responsive. His views on the Australian student crisis or whether Section 377 of the IPC should be repealed given the ongoing debate on decriminalising homosexuality are fair, but while it’s okay to be giving sound bytes to television, going on record online is different. You can’t even argue that you’ve been misquoted! But Tharoor’s donned the UN hat and am sure he can clam up if needed.

A search on Twitter doesn’t throw up any results for Ambika Soni and I don’t think the namesakes on Facebook have anything to do with the lady. Ditto with her MoSes – Mohan Jatua and S Jagathrakshakan. It’s not that you’ve got to be hot on social networks to be an I&B Minister, but it would’ve been super to have at least a junior minister who is social media-friendly. For, in the next few years, it’s sub-140 character news updates that will gain currency across the world.

Perhaps the new ministers can take a crash course from Tharoor. Or the full-time replacement of I&B Secretary Sushma Singh, who retired yesterday, may be the answer. Wishful thinking?

(The views expressed here are my own.)

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