When the public relations fail
- Part 2 -

Meghachandra Kongbam *

In today's digital age, social media platforms have emerged as powerful tools for crisis resolution. However, it appears that the current Government fails to grasp the significance and effectiveness of this innovative communication medium, comprising elements such as Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter, YouTube, and more. These platforms have the potential to enlighten the public by disseminating meaningful messages that can help resolve crises effectively.

The prolonged ban on internet access has left those in need of accurate information in a state of darkness, akin to stumbling in the absence of light. While the Government may have concerns about social media spreading rumours, it should also recognize that these platforms can be invaluable in dispelling falsehoods and presenting the facts.

If the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in Manipur had a PR professional at its helm, they would likely object to the internet ban, recognizing its utility as a valuable tool for delivering Government information directly to the people, especially in times of crisis.

It's worth noting that social media and new media represent vital components of the mass communication landscape. In fact, the esteemed Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi offers a one-year Diploma Course in Digital Media, underlining the growing significance of this medium.

Regrettably, the Government of Manipur, particularly the DIPR, appears to lag behind in recognizing the potential of new media as a powerful mass communication tool. This oversight hampers their ability to effectively engage with the public and manage crises within Manipur.

The pressing need in the Manipur administration today is the reinforcement of the Public Relations (PR) department with seasoned professionals. The inception of the Publicity Office in Manipur dates back to November 1, 1949, shortly after the merger of Manipur into the Indian Union on October 15, 1949. This office was under the leadership of the esteemed media professional Shri RK Maipaksana, who served as the Editor of a prominent vernacular newspaper.

In March 1974, the office was elevated to the status of a Directorate, and the Director's post was designated a cadre position for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), with Shri TC Tiankham assuming the role as the first IAS Director. Following Manipur's attainment of Statehood, it appears that some of the top-level bureaucrats, who were mostly non-Manipuris and had risen to power during the Union Territory regime, may have been inclined to consolidate their authority.

This was achieved by undermining the elected Government's strength through the mishandling of the PR Department and the erosion of its professionalism.

During the tenure of Chief Minister RK Do-rendra Singh, the depart- ment's professionalism suffered a significant setback. To address this, the position of Additional Director was established and earmarked for a professional.

Shri Maibam Haricharan, hailing from the Central Information Service and working with AIR Imphal, was appointed to this role. Unfortunately, after his retirement, the position remained vacant for an extended period and was eventually transformed into an MCS Grade-I post. Consequently, the professional ethos within the Directorate gradually waned.

There was a time when officers from the department were sent for refresher courses at the Indian Institute of Mass Commu- nication in New Delhi, but this practice was discontinued. Presently, junior-level positions like Assistant Publicity Officers (APOs) and District Information Officers (DIOs), mostly well-trained in journalism and mass communication serve in the Junior MCS cadre, perpetuating a non-professional working approach within the DIPR, Manipur.

This non-professional modus operandi of the DIPR, Manipur, has had dire consequences for the Government of Manipur. Astonishingly, in the past 49 years since March 1974, the department has seen a staggering turnover of 48 Directors, highlighting the extent of the issue. To reinvigorate the administration and enhance its communication capabilities, a re-evaluation and streng-thening of the PR Depart- ment with a renewed focus on professionalism are imperative.

Democracy, often defined as "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people," cannot function effectively without robust public relations. It is essential for public relations activities to play a vital role in assisting citizens in comprehending their rights and responsibilities within the framework of a democratic Government.

I have first hand knowledge of the current Chief Minister of Manipur's capabilities and his deep affection for his homeland, Manipur. During his tenure as a Minister in the Ibobi Government, I, along with him and a senior journalist successfully defused a communal crisis by utilizing social media and employing sound strategies in managing National media. This example underscores the importance of meticulous planning, strategic thinking, and a professional approach to public relations when addressing crises.

Handling both the preparation of messages and media management is a complex task that requires skill and precision. Effectively communicating essential messages to the masses can falter if we overlook even a single letter, as the word "Mass" can inadvertently become "Ass Communication." This highlights the delicate nature of mass communication and emphasizes the necessity of professional expertise in PR practices.

Propaganda, as a means of persuasion, ultimately proves ineffective and self-defeating. It often lacks ethical content and is predominantly associated with persuasion driven solely by self-interest, often necessitating the distortion or even falsification of facts to achieve its objectives.

In contrast, Public Relations (PR) embraces a broader and more responsible approach, characterized by a commitment to long-term relationships and a genuine desire to persuade while fostering mutual understanding.

Public Relations aims to secure the voluntary acceptance of attitudes and ideas. It can only succeed when founded on an ethical foundation and when truthful means are employed. This distinction underscores the importance of ethical principles and honesty in effective communication and relationship-building.

An interesting example of propaganda is 'India Shining' of NDA Government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee of BJP in the election campaign of 2004, which did not succeed because rural India was suffering. Later, LK Advani, BJP leader admitted the campaign title should have been 'Indian Rising' instead of 'India Shining'.

During the same election, the Indian National Congress, then the primary Opposition party, based its campaign on projecting itself as a party dedicated to the common man, encapsulated in the slogan "Congress ka Haath, Aam Aadmi ke Saath" (The Hand of Congress is with the Common Man). Jairam Ramesh, a key figure in the Congress Strategy Committee, noted that Sonia's Jan Sampark program helped create a perception among voters that the party genuinely cared about those who were not benefiting from the 'Shining India' narrative.

However, after winning the election, the Congress seemed to forget its own 'Aam Aadmi' mantra. A group of individuals, keen on battling corruption, adopted this sentiment and formed the Aam Aadmi Party, subsequently governing the National capital, Delhi. This shift in focus led to the Congress distancing itself from the common man, which ultimately resulted in its defeat at the hands of the BJP in subsequent elections.

In conclusion, the present Government should wholeheartedly embrace the concept of 'Public Relations,' which is embodied in the Department of Information and Public Relations of the State. When the Government effectively utilizes the professional services of Public Relations, it has the potential to bridge the trust gap between itself and the public, ultimately fostering a positive image.

During times of crisis, the establishment of a Crisis Control Public Relations Communication Centre becomes imperative. Such a centre can be established based on a comprehensive 10-point formula:

1. Develop a crisis public relations plan.
2. Compile essential background information related to the crisis.
3. Facilitate a robust two-way information flow, both within and outside the Government.
4. Establish a dedicated crisis information centre.
5. Skillfully manage and monitor media relations.
6. Regularly provide the official version of information.
7. Highlight relief and rehabilitation measures.
8. Recognize that crises are not confined to local spheres but often have global ramifications.
9. Maintain a commitment to accuracy in disseminating information.
10. Continuously learn from case studies to improve crisis management strategies.

Moreover, the Manipur Information Centre in New Delhi should be fully operational, actively engaging with National media to ensure the accurate publication of positive news related to Manipur.

Furthermore, it is crucial to expedite the transformation of the IPR Department into a professional entity, enabling it to chart its own course without delay. This transformation is not only in the interest of the Government but also crucial for the well-being and harmony of the peace-loving people of Manipur.


* Meghachandra Kongbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 23 September 2023.

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