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Central media outreach programme in jeopardy!

By M.Y.Siddiqui

 The media outreach programme of the NDA Government, discussed and chalked out in a day long workshop at New Delhi on February 2, 2014 and presided by the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Finance & Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitly is a well meaning exercise intended to strengthen the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the prime official media for dissemination of all official information and publicity of the Government of India and other official media units for keeping the people better informed about policy decisions of the Government and benefits accruing to the people.

Nevertheless, the workshop, though well meaning and first of its kind and attended by Cabinet Secretary, Secretary, Information & Broadcasting, over 60 joint secretaries, 30 private secretaries of various Union Ministers, over 150 Indian Information Service personnel, official media heads and others, is virtually an exercise in futility, given the fact that there are various constraints that need to be tackled simultaneously. The official information and publicity infrastructure is so fledgling presently that it has almost reached a collapsible stage.

The first and foremost constraint is that today development information does not make news.  Only adversarial information verging on negativism and negative sentiments makes news. In the circumstances, pushing media outreach on development programme is very daunting as there is no space for such information in the print and electronic media. This entails very difficult task for the Government to reorient its media relations by refocusing attention to enlist willing cooperation of the media persons to generate public goodwill for the Government.

The other most important constraint is general reticence of Secretaries to part with information on the ill-conceived premise that frequent dissemination of positive information would raise public expectations and demands for which they would be under pressure of their Ministers to provide latest brief, at times by burning midnight oil. This constraint hampers them from giving information for media outreach.

The next most important constraint is lack of professionalism of the present breed of Indian Information Service functionaries in terms of self-initiative, right inclination, aptitude and their inability to process the information and encapsulating them for the media in various formats prescribed in the Office Procedure Manual and the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules. A screening committee of competent professionals needs to be set up for choosing right information personnel with high professional commitment and self-drive to man PIB for effective media outreach programme. Presently, departmental publicity officers of the Bureau do not meet the PSs to Ministers, Secretaries and other senior officials daily in the Ministries/Departments they are attached to, for update of information and a feel of overall happenings therein. This results in dissemination of lesser information allowing the print and electronic media to fill their space with negative and adversarial juicy stories, thus generating negative public perception and sentiments against the Government, as did happen during the previous UPA Government. This is based on the self-experience of this reporter, who himself was a blue professional communicator with the highest publicity records.

Yet another most important constraint relates to acute shortages of manpower, especially in the information and publicity area of all official media units including AIR and Doordarshan. All publicity works in Hindi, other languages and vernacular are outsourced to mostly private persons on a meager payment resulting in poor quality of information and publicity material. Media outreach of PIB’s regional and branch offices in languages and vernacular is so late and so ill strategized that virtually there is black-out of Central Government’s developmental information and publicity in the regional and local media.

Prompted by the negative sentiments generated by the media against the previous UPA Government that changed adversely public perception against it, this exercise of the NDA Government appears to be well intended. But how far will it improve and enlarge media outreach favourable to the Government, only the time will spell! Till then the people concerned will watch with bated breadth!







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