Interact with media real time: Nirupama Rao

Friday, December 10, 2010

NEW DELHI - Calling for bureaucrats to “reinvent” themselves to counter negative information and stereotypes, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the government would have to take public diplomacy seriously to meet the needs of today’s media and fill “information vacuums” that usually play into the hands of adversaries.

“We live in a communications environment and if our policies are to be well understood, we will have to interact on a real time and virtually constant basis with the media and audiences both at home and abroad,” said Rao at a conference on Public Diplomacy in the Information Age.

She said public diplomacy not only requires bureaucrats to reinvent themselves but to also think “out-of-the-box, be alert to countering negative information and stereotypes and also to be ever-vigilant of information vacuums that will be filled by our adversaries.”

The Ministry of External Affairs has created a separate public diplomacy (PD) division which has now entered the social networking internet tools like twitter, facebook and u-tube that is drawing the ministry an unprecedented response from the digital generation that it previously never thought of engaging.

Rao said that the ministry had traditionally been conservative in “publicising our own work” and this “leaves the field open for negative stories of which there is never a dearth.”

“From a public diplomacy standpoint, I think it is vital that we start building credible and engaging narratives about the positive work that we do,” she stated, adding that it would only provide global audiences, but also target public and parliament with an appreciation of our activities.

She admitted that with a “babel” of voices outside government speaking on foreign policy, the government’s message may simply not get through.

“The way to address this is to provide higher definition to the debate by presenting the government’s case as clearly and factually as possible, being quick to correct misrepresentation, bridging gaps in information, and to understand that by hesitating to speak we only compound the lack of understanding of a particular policy in the public domain,” said Rao.

The seminar was also addressed by former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, a staunch proponent of public diplomacy and who could be said to be one of the pioneers of using social media in public office. His twitter account has 899,655 followers, perhaps the largest by any Indian twitterer.

“Being an Information Technology power hub India should be in the forefront of public diplomacy using latest technology,” Tharoor asserted.

He said the best way for India to project its soft power was for “India to be India”. That’s why, he said, any challenges to India’s plurality and diversity, will also affects its international standing.

The two-day conference, organised by MEA’s PD division and Centre for Media Studies (CMS), was webcast live on the internet from its venue at the Le Meridien Hotel, as well as covered with regular posts on twitter.

It is being attended by not just diplomats, but also members of the academic community and prominent journalists as well international experts.

Filed under: Diplomacy

will not be displayed