Rajiv Gandhi held the first nationally televised live press conference by an Indian prime minister here today and his sharpest exchange came over his statement that government-run radio and television are not ready to be made independent.
A reporter asserted that the government wanted to keep control of radio and television for its political purposes, but Gandhi said making them independent would hurt the country.
As evidence for his view, he cited "the way you people independent newspapers and magazines print and publish."
"I don't think you behave responsibly," Gandhi said.
Gandhi also said he hopes for settlement soon of disturbances in the Indian states of Punjab, where he faces Sikh separatism, and Gujarat, where a new chief minister has been appointed to try to calm caste and communal clashes. He hinted at additions to his Cabinet and said new education and family planning programs are near completion.
But the chief news was the press conference itself, televised live at 9:45 a.m., a time picked to provide a maximum audience since some of India's most popular programs are on then.
Gandhi's appearance came between a cartoon show and an exceptionally popular program about flying saucers, called "UFO." Indian-made soap operas also draw an especially large audience for the morning hours.
Thus Gandhi was able to reach a large number of India's 750 million people -- something never done before by a political leader here.
For six months last year, the government opened a transmission station a day and now more than 70 percent of Indians can get television. Isolated villages have community sets and home television has become a necessity for India's growing middle class.
With an apparent confidence in his ability to handle the news media and television, Gandhi has taken full advantage of the new communications technology available to him, and it appears to suit his chosen image as a man who wants to use technology to speed India into the 21st century -- one of his oft-repeated campaign pledges.
The announcer for the government-run Indian television network picked up that theme when she introduced the 40-year-old prime minister as "the young man in a hurry to take this nation forward."
In a country with more than a dozen official languages and hundreds more regional dialects, Gandhi conducted the press conference in Hindi, which is spoken by more people than any other, and English, the link language.
While simultaneous translations were offered reporters, television viewers got none, and thus millions could not understand what their prime minister was saying as Gandhi answered more than 30 questions in slightly over an hour.
Pleased with his performance today, some of the prime minister's advisers said Gandhi plans to make televised press conferences a regular feature of his administration. This was his first press conference since his election victory in December.
With security tightening around him as a result of threats on his life, moreover, televised press conferences will allow Gandhi to appear before the public in controlled situations that pose fewer risks than an Indian politician's usual practice of moving freely around the country and mixing with its citizens.