The message some of India’s most public figures seem to be sending is this: “Allow us to speak our mind freely and unscripted. And the controversies will create themselves.”
The tiresome and pointless Shashi Tharoor-Lalit Modi spat, so much of it fought over Twitter, is just the latest public exhibition of what happens when people in very high places have their iPhones and BlackBerrys, but not their public relations managers, around all the time.
Glance through the cringe-worthy history of controversies generated by celebrity blogs and tweets over the last few years. What you get is a repetitive saga of film stars and politicians using the unfettered freedom of online publishing platforms to generate, inadvertently or otherwise, pulp controversy.
Amitabh Bachchan has used his widely popular blog to talk about Slumdog Millionaire, his associations with Amar Singh and his various political endorsements. In each case, these statements have led to accusations and counter-accusations and then clarifications.
Aamir Khan once famously blogged that he had a dog called “Shahrukh” who licked his feet and liked biscuits. Some people got offended. Press statements flew back and forth. And then an uneasy peace was reached.
Chetan Bhagat used his blog to air 3 Idiots’ dirty laundry.
Twitter makes it even easier to talk oneself into a hole. No blogging hindrances such as subject lines, paragraphs or thoughts that require coherence beyond a few words. Just whip out a cellphone and fire at will. Tweet first, convene apologetic press conference later.
Tharoor has spent an abnormally large part of his term as minister clarifying his status updates on Twitter. Modi once remarkably managed to accuse Chris Cairns of being a match fixer within 140 characters.
Perhaps it is time to realize the importance of the old-fashioned press conference where public figures, coached by professionals, air their views in full sentences, without misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
Left on their own without oversight, however, they will just continue to provide lazy newsrooms with cover stories and breaking news. But then, what if these controversies are the product of some devious public relations company? What if these are schemes to make bigger stars of their clients? In that case, it is time they tweeted out a request for new PR managers.
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