Government on image-building driveMay 12th, 2011 - 9:14 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, May 12 (IANS) The 24-month-old Manmohan Singh government, hit by several corruption scandals, Thursday began an image-building drive by launching press briefings by a select group of ministers, sidelining the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
Home Minister P. Chidambaram chaired the first press conference by the Group of Ministers (GoM), which was constituted by the prime minister Tuesday.
However, media analysts and officials were divided on the impact.
Government sources said the government wants to avoid a repeat of the aggressive adverse publicity it got on the recent scams - 2G spectrum scandal, Commonwealth Games scandal, Adarsh Housing Society scam and S-Band spectrum scandal. The government also feels that it had lost the publicity war during the five-day fast by social reformer Anna Hazare.
The sources added that the GoM will explain its stand on topical issues that have political ramifications. “The GoM will work in close coordination with the Congress party”, though it has not been officially stated, they added.
While senior officials in the PIB - the department for the government publicity comprising professionals - declined to comment, several former officials of the department and media analysts felt the effort may not cut much ice.
“As a former head of the government’s publicity set-up, I was surprised at the announcement. In India, we have an effective organization in the form of the PIB to disseminate information about policies and programmes of the government, and one has only to make effective use of it,” I. Ramamohan Rao, former principal information officer (PIO), told IANS.
“Driven to a corner, the government has resorted to the familiar solution. Entrust the task to a Group of Ministers,” Rao added.
Some media analysts felt the government has resorted to the daily briefing by the GOM, as the professionals in the PIB are bound by their ‘Charter of Conduct’ and cannot put forth political arguments in support of the government.
“It is like blaming the messenger for the bad message. Ultimately, the government image has been lowered by the recent scams,” said media analyst K. Sreekumar.
“In the final analysis, good publicity cannot be a remedy to bad decisions.
“For example, no amount of publicity was able to justify the decisions taken during the Emergency, the Blue Star Operation, the Indian Peace-keeping Operations in Sri Lanka and the decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations,” Rao said.
The prime minister had constituted the GoM to have a “structured mechanism to disseminate information and to fill the news vacuum”.
Congress sources told IANS the GoM was constituted after consultations between the prime minister and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Two other members of the GoM - Information Minister Ambika Soni and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed - also addressed Thursday’s media conference.
Other members in the seven-member GoM , are Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy.
In the inaugural press conference, Chidambaram and other ministers spoke on several topical issues, including the arrest of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh Wednesday night, the Supreme Court verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy trial and terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
“… The GoM will meet every day at a fixed hour, analyse the events of the day and issue suitable directions to a nodal officer to prepare appropriate material for briefing the media,” the PMO circular said. However, it is not clear there will be press conferences daily.
The PMO order has mentioned that a serving officer, or a retired person on contract, will be appointed the nodal officer of the GoM , with a secretariat of upto three staff.
The circular said the press conferences would strive to “expand individual briefings by individual ministers into a collective effort and fill the news vacuum” especially on contentious issues on which “rumour-mongering” occurs.
“Whenever needed, the party and the government should talk in the same voice. That is the purpose behind the exercise,” a Congress leader told IANS.
Though no minister from the UPA constituent parties are represented in the GoM, individual ministers from the allies will also address the press conferences, sources said.
“With the GoM dealing with contentious political issues - like the arrest of Rahul Gandhi in today’s briefing - it is likely to draw flak from opposition parties and defeat the same purpose it has been created,” said Sreekumar.
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