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Interviewing the Prime Minister: Karan Thapar's Guidelines

Karan Thapar lays out a set of guidelines for how journalists should hold power to account and give voice to the concerns of the public.

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On May 20th, the day Mumbai went to the polls in the 2024 Indian general election, a lively discussion about Indian politics ensued amongst my friends and me. I raised the point that Narendra Modi, our current Prime Minister, had avoided holding a single press conference for a decade - a concerning lack of accountability to the public. One friend countered that Modi does give interviews to journalists. However, I explained that a press conference differs from a one-on-one interview. Press conferences expose leaders to spontaneous questioning from a range of media outlets simultaneously. This unscripted format often elicits more authentic and unfiltered insights into their thinking and policies than a pre-arranged interview where questions can be screened in advance. Later, I realised I failed to point out that even Modi’s interviews during this election campaign did not seem upto the standard of what an effective interview should be.

This discussion sparked my curiosity about the principles of an effective interview that truly holds power to account. Fortunately, today I came across veteran journalist Karan Thapar’s insightful piece “What Questions to Ask in an Interview with a PM,” which provides invaluable guidance on this issue.

In this piece, Karan Thapar emphasizes that:

  • Interviewers must remember they are asking questions on behalf of the public.
  • Questions must be pertinent: relevant, significant, and timely to demand accountability.
  • The interviewer must persistently push for answers instead of allowing monologues or tangents.
  • The interview should not serve as a platform to attack critics, but rather an occasion to make the PM respond to valid criticisms.
  • The interviewer and PM must interact as equals, with the former feeling empowered to challenge evasions or dubious claims.

Karan Thapar’s article is highly relevant and a must-read, especially for Indian journalists.

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