“Never start a press conference at 7:30 PM. That’s when TV news channels run sports shows. They will not cut out of cricket to show your press conference. Avoid live briefings at 2:30 PM, that’s when Hindi news channels run Saas-Bahu shows, which get very good ratings. Channels will not break out of their Saas-Bahu shows.” These are amongst the gems of insider information that Team Anna has relied on to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the government’s much-vaunted media managers.In an era when TV channels are forever ‘Breaking News’, Team Anna has shown great mastery in using the TV camera to communicate its message and keep the heat on the government. Compared with a government that takes several hours, some times days, to communicate its stance, Team Anna has been able to ensure that it sets the news agenda, forcing a desperate government to play catch up.Team Anna formulated its media strategy using the help of some former TV journalists. The likes of Manish Sisodia, who worked with Zee News as a producer, and Shazia Ilmi, who was one of the lead anchors at Star News for several years, help Team Anna get an insider’s perspective on how TV channels run and how to stay on top of the news cycle.Here are some of Team Anna’s Dos and Don’ts when it comes to the media. “Never kick off a major protest on a Sunday or a holiday, that’s when TV channels have a lot of pre-recorded shows and space for live news is limited. Plus, all the big anchors and editors take the day off. Stories get played up more when the top editors are present in the news room.” Sample another, “Unlike the government, do not make the mistake of neglecting Hindi channels and regional media, since most of the audiences are actually watching news in vernacular languages and not in English.”advertisementIn just the same way as editors conduct a news meeting every morning, key members of Team Anna too hold their own media strategy meeting. In this meeting, different ideas are discussed. The team then comes up with catchy headlines, like “Joke Pal not Lok Pal”, headlines that these professionals from their past experience know the media is likely to lap up.Talking points are circulated to members who will be appearing on TV debates or giving print interviews. The instruction is clear, don’t get bogged down by the noise of a TV discussion and regardless of what the anchor asks or the other panellists allege, ensure that what you say does not stray from the key issue of Jan Lokpal and corruption.The strategists also realise the importance of keeping the message fresh to ensure that ‘Breaking News’ is supplied at regular intervals. Letters to the Prime Minister or Sonia Gandhi, or photo opportunities like Anna sitting at Rajghat on Independence Day are part of this strategy. Team Anna has realised the importance of symbolism, which is how Anna’s image in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi became the defining image this Independence Day, instead of the Prime Minister speaking at Red Fort.Not just is the importance of communicating the right message understood, attempts are also made to ensure that there are no deviations from the central message. When Anna Hazare spoke out in favour of Narendra Modi, the media strategists quickly understood that this comment could end up alienating apolitical supporters and fuel allegations that Anna was the BJP’s B-Team. Very quickly, it was clarified that Anna only praised Modi’s development work and did not condone state-sponsored riots. When allegations were levelled that the RSS was sponsoring Anna’s campaign, attempts were made to rope in faces from the Muslim community to give the movement an inclusive feel.Team Anna has even engaged an external media tracking agency that pores over every line of news carried in newspapers and TV channels. If the team feels the media is drifting from their message, meetings are immediately convened and course correction strategies chalked out.Attempts to leverage the media are not restricted to TV and print, social media too is given a major thrust, which is what explains the large turn-out of youngsters at places like India Gate and Azad Maidan. A dedicated team of volunteers constantly updates India Against Corruption, Facebook pages and Twitter handles, which is how the youth know where to assemble and when. Communication is localised down to every city so that the campaign is not restricted only to Delhi and Mumbai.Compare Team Anna’s cutting edge media strategy with that of the UPA government. For 72 hours after Baba Ramdev was unceremoniously evicted from Ramlila Maidan in the middle of the night, the government made no effort to explain to a horrified nation, what prompted the police’s mid-night crackdown. Even in the case of the PM’s faux pas on Bangladesh in the Editor’s roundtable, it took the PMO more than 30 hours to remove the offending remarks from the PMO website. In the intervening period, serious damage had been done to the government’s image and media consumers had formed their own opinion on the government’s actions.advertisementIn the United States, successive Presidents since John F. Kennedy have turned media management into a fine art. An entire industry of spin doctors thrives and is growing with every passing year. Barack Obama’s successful presidential run in 2008 is often credited to deft handling of mass media and the ability to communicate a message of hope, which resonated with users across all media platforms – TV, print, radio and online.Rattled by a series of PR disasters, the government has now formulated a Group of Ministers on the media, whose job is to communicate the government’s viewpoint to the people in real time. But in comparison with Anna’s message which seems earnest, the government’s spokespersons often come across as being condescending, confrontational and arrogant.At every stage, Anna has shown that he is three steps ahead of the government. When it became clear that the government would arrest Anna Hazare on Tuesday morning, Team Anna recorded a message for the people of India. Government sources dismissed this tactic as being inspired by slain terrorist Osama bin Laden, but the video message helped Anna generate sympathy even amongst fence sitters who did not support his campaign before this. The recording also had a graphic plate with the names of people who would lead the movement in Anna’s absence – a key mass communication strategy to ensure that people know whose voice to listen to.In an era when 24-hour TV is a reality that cannot be wished away, Team Anna has shown how even with limited resources, mass media can be channelised to amplify the message. The government, despite the innumerable resources at its command, still comes across as confused and chooses to blame the media for creating the Anna phenomenon. A classic case of confusing the message with the messenger. No wonder Anna is winning and the government is bound in shackles.