Months before polls, Modi govt plans to monitor media to flag ‘negative publicity’


PIB to hire private agencies to keep tab on all media platforms and help the government firm up its communication strategy ahead of the 2019 polls.

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has tasked its chief communication arm to step up monitoring of social, digital as well as traditional media and flag “negative publicity” of the PMO and other crucial ministries, just months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP-led government hopes to use the information to firm up its communication strategy, raising questions of whether it is using government resources to source inputs for the party’s election campaign.

In line with the government’s wishes, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), its official communication arm, floated a tender last month, inviting proposals from external agencies for “media aggregation, analysis and feedback services” with regard to print, electronic, online and social media.

Individual agencies, which will have to submit their proposals by 6 February, can apply separately to monitor each of the four media arms.

The PIB proposal, however, comes days after the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, through the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a PSU, had invited fresh tenders from social media experts and agencies that can prepare sentiment analysis reports, which gauge the mood of the electorate and create content for campaigns on flagship government schemes to be launched across all media platforms.

The agencies will work for the I&B’s New Media Wing (NMW), which along with the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) already keep a tab on media platforms.

While the NMW tracks online platforms and social media, the EMMC exclusively deals with all channels, including news channels, and prepares reports on their coverage and flags violations in advertising and the programme code.

Sources said the I&B Ministry and the PIB floating similar tenders indicates a lack of coordination between the agencies and may lead to duplicity of work, efforts and finances.

But a senior government official, privy to the development, justified the decision saying that a 360-degree media monitoring was a long-standing demand of PIB officers and was not part of any election strategy.

“The PIB was not aware of the NMW’s tender. The other media monitoring units such as the New Media Wing and EMMC do not share their analysis reports and inputs with the PIB officers, who look at publicity affairs of individual ministries,” the official said.

“The focus of PIB is also print media. So, monitoring of all other media, especially online and social media was required for better understanding of media coverage of news developments.”

The PIB monitoring work
The agencies to be hired by the PIB will have to provide it press clippings with an index of headlines by 8 am every day, and prepare perception report of the PMO and six other important ministries — defence, finance, home affairs, commerce and industry, road, transport and highways and HRD.

They will also have to supply two feedback reports on television news content every day and track coverage of the government on online news platforms, websites of major newspapers, blogs and social media platforms.

As per the tender, the media feedback reports must specially focus on negative news and the reports on them should be made available to the PIB officers throughout the year.

This apart, the agency may also be required to submit news analysis reports on special occasions, such as the budget day, the launch of an important scheme, a mega event, among others.

The feedback from the agencies will be segregated in such a way that the PIB can maintain a log on individual journalists, coverage of a particular and prominent Twitter handles.

The PIB tender is similar to another floated by BECIL earlier this year, which was later scrapped after accusations from various quarters that it amounted to government snooping on citizens.

Unlike the earlier one, the new tenders, floated by PIB and BECIL, have omitted contentious language that can be deemed as snooping but their effective job remains monitoring of all media.

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