Tripti Nath ,

Indian journalists traveling abroad as part of media delegations with the President, Vice President and Prime Minister are notorious for their unseemly behaviour. Haggling endlessly with shopkeepers, getting into drunken brawls, complaining about food or making a fool of themselves in red-light districts has been known to happen with embarrassing frequency.

External affairs ministry officials say journalists by and large behave themselves when traveling to Western countries but seem to think they have a license to do as they please when in Asia and Africa. MEA officials have been a tad nervous on this count as they planned for the PM’s October 9-12 visit to Brunei and Indonesia.

A wary MEA has included a list of behavioural ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for journalists accompanying the PM. The list generally comprises information on weather and the recommended clothing. But this time the list has some interesting behavioural tips for the accompanying media delegation.

The booklet distributed to journalists traveling with the PM states how “traditional Indonesian cultural mores emphasize the importance of living in harmony. Open displays of anger – shouting, rude looks, etc are all highly offensive behaviour. Indonesian method of dealing with differences is to strive towards consensus.”

If that isn’t all, the list advises journalists to keep their penchant for haggling at marketplaces under control. “Bargaining in traditional markets is acceptable though not by a huge margin. Do not expect this in shopping malls where prices are fixed,” the list says. There have been instances in the past of journalists getting into arguments with local shopkeepers and worse by taking delivery of the goods only to leave the city without paying up, leaving harried Indian mission officials to cough up the money.

Journalists literally caught with their pants down and with no money to pay in a red-light district has also known to have happened. Here again fellow journalists or the Indian mission officials have pooled in money to rescue them from the clutches of bouncers or police. The list also has a word of advice on the correct etiquette to be observed when interacting with women in Brunei and Indonesia. “Even though handshaking is deemed appropriate between men and women, bear in mind that a number of Muslim women prefer to introduce themselves to men by nodding their head,” the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ state.

In 2010, two senior television journalists, who accompanied then President Pratibha Patil to China, outdid many others when it came to trashing the dignity of the Indian journalistic corps. The two literally came to blows at a hotel in Beijing. The drunken brawl left behind shattered glass panes, broken furniture and a broken nose. The Indian embassy in Beijing picked up the tab for the broken furniture and worked the phone lines to keep the hotel staff from reporting the matter to the police. The matter was reported to the Prime Minister’s Office and the respective channels. The two gentlemen aren’t allowed on official trips abroad ever since.

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