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Monday, July 16, 2001

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Media kept out of 'action'

By Neena Vyas

AGRA, JULY 15. For once the media was put on such a tight leash that besides a few cameramen no one was allowed to go anywhere near the venue of the summit talks between the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

For hours, the hundreds of mediapersons who arrived here to cover the big event waited at the media centre set up at the Mughal Sheraton Hotel about a kilometre and a half away from the Jaypee Palace Hotel where the two leaders were meeting. Not a word came out of there, no one knew what was happening. It was only when Ms. Sushma Swaraj, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, came to the media centre about 30 minutes before the official briefing, that it was known the talks were ``positive'' and that another round would be held in the evening and perhaps a third tomorrow morning.

Ms. Swaraj said the two leaders had been able to establish a rapport, that the talks had progressed well - although it was known that there were some hiccups and there was no major breakthrough as yet.

There were many foreign correspondents, for the Kashmir issue that has bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan has always been a favourite subject for them. After all, when India exploded the nuclear devices at Pokhran in May, 1998, and Pakistan followed suit, many western powers were quick to say that the Kashmir issue could become a dangerous flashpoint.

But the fact is that the hundreds of cameramen with their heavy equipment and the correspondents had to be content with a ``photo opportunity'' when the two leaders shook hands vigorously at the venue of the talks. Mr. Vajpayee had waited at the porch of the hotel to receive Gen. Musharraf, who arrived in an impressive limousine. But that was all. As for the correspondents with their notebooks, the briefing in the late afternoon did not give them an opportunity to use their pens. For a statement was read out by the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs with the Pakistani side endorsing it. A quick ``thank you'' and the ``briefing'' was over in less than five minutes.

But in those five minutes care was taken to give the headlines to newspapers - talks positive and fruitful, Gen. Musharraf invites Mr. Vajpayee, Mr. Vajpayee accepts invitation and so on. The drama without much action will go on tomorrow, and no one can tell what will be on offer to the media.

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