A lesson in how to deal with the press

Vol 3, PW 25 (19 Jan 00) People & Policy

As a foreign company in India, you will inevitably come into contact with journalists from the energy press.

Often this can be disconcerting, especially if you find newspapers have published a story you wish to keep secret, or worse, a story that is inaccurate. It does happen, even to the most diligent of journalists.

To use the press to your advantage, you must first try to first understand how it works. Energy journalists in India broadly fall into two categories: those that work for news agencies (Press Trust of India, Reuters, Bridge News) and those that work for a newspaper (Economic Times, Business Standard, Financial Express).

The distinction is important. If you are (mis)quoted by a news agency, the damage is worse than if the same happens in a newspaper.

Agencies earn money by selling the same story to a maximum of outlets; so an inaccurate story by PTI or Reuters will be reproduced in newspapers in India and abroad or even broadcast on the BBC World Service. An inaccurate story in a newspaper is unlikely to leave the country, unless it is a Scoop of earth-shattering proportions.

A good example of this is PTIs continued reporting of IOCs non-existent 35% stake at Balal in Iran. Readers of this report know the report is false.

In India, however, everyone including the oil minister and his dog think IOC is set to acquire 35% of Balal. As Joseph Goebbels once said, Tell a lie often enough and people think its true.

Another point to note is that newspapers are ready to admit they are wrong and will apologise for factual errors if factual errors there are. Personal experience tells this writer that critical letters to an editor highlighting mistakes in a story are treated seriously.

Unfortunately, most companies either dont have the time - or think it a waste of time - to complain. This is an error.

If a correction is warranted, a correction is published.