Need guidelines for spokespersons

In any critical juncture, spokespersons have a critical role and in this they should know the horizons they can access. All should be made aware of the Lakshman Rekha they cannot cross.

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It has now become imperative that national and regional political parties take their official spokespersons seriously and vice-versa. It must be noted that the media and the general public take the comments of these spokespersons very seriously, believing those comments to be the verbalisation of the actual thought processes of the party’s leaders. In any critical juncture, spokespersons have a critical role and in this they should know the horizons they can access. All should be made aware of the Lakshman Rekha they cannot cross.

More importantly, though, these spokespersons will have to be made aware of the laws of the land and the intricacies therein, plus the simple fact that whatever the stature of the spokesperson in the public domain, the final authority on matters of policy and the lines that the political party should take is left to the leaders, those who formulate policy.

In no case should these spokespersons be allowed to overstep their authority and make comments that are either not in consonance with the party line or go beyond Constitutional boundaries. No freedom of expression at any level exists for these spokespersons. Spokespersons are meant to simply propagate policies of the party he or she belongs to, and in doing so, she must not make comments that might cause his or her party any embarrassment.

Maybe it is possible that a set of general guidelines be formulated for spokespersons. This is not too far-fetched. A training process in this can be undertaken, in which not just political imperatives, but also the legal boundaries are clearly defined. Remember, religion is a touchy subject in India and off-hand comments can lead to major public problems. We have seen this on many occasions, and almost all parties have been at the receiving end of such reactions at some time.

The idea is to differentiate between an election-oriented speech by a political leader and a comment by a spokesperson. Even the leader’s speech has to abide by certain Election Commission guidelines. These same guidelines can be applied to the spokespersons. That would help create a better atmosphere.