TODAY -

Understanding the office of the PRO : Absent when wanted
- The Sangai Express Editorial :: June 06 2015 -



There is a reason why the Army has a Press Information Bureau unit headed by a Public Relations Officer (PRO).

There is also a reason why the Assam Rifles has deemed it necessary to open its own public relations unit headed by another PRO. Granted, the Assam Rifles does not have a designated PRO but given the fact that it has a massive presence in the North East, the need to open its own PR unit must have been felt.

Not surprisingly the PROs are Army officers, deputed on duty to liaise with the media and the people, especially in trouble torn places like the North East and Jammu and Kashmir.

Given this fact, the PROs become the face of the security personnel, much more so in troubled, sensitive places like the North East, particularly Manipur.

This is where it needs to sink into the heads of the top honchos of the military establishment that the office of the PRO is much more than just issuing press releases and occasionally interacting with media professionals.

It is much more than this. For one, all officers posted to the office of the PR unit must be told in no uncertain terms why they are there in the first place.

That the security force need a good public face is something which must have become obvious down the years.

And obviously one of the most important agenda must be to neutralise all the bad or damaging press that the security personnel are prone to receive from time to time, given the nature of their task.

This is all that more so when the numerous underground outfits operating in the North East region have picked up the lesson that they do need to portray a good image to the public and the media is one of the most important medium to do this.

Manipur has more than experienced its share of tumultuous periods.

One experience will definitely be the summer of 2004 when Imphal was literally paralysed for months after the battered and bullet riddled body of Th Manorama was found after she was picked up by Assam Rifles jawans the previous night.

Before this, there was the infamous Malom massacre in 2000, which gave birth to the crusader in Irom Chanu Sharmila.

It was after the macabre death of Th Manorama and the extremely negative press that the Assam Rifles received that a spokesman or PRO of the Assam Rifles was appointed.

Clearly the confrontations between the militants and the security personnel had moved beyond the jungles and entered the drawing rooms of all.

Counter-Insurgency Operations no longer meant shoot outs in the jungles or streets of Manipur alone, but also drawing up publicity campaigns and this is where the office of the PRO became more and more important.

However it is doubtful if this importance has really sunk into the consciousness of the officers appointed to the post of PRO.

Nowhere was this more apparent than June 4 this year when numerous soldiers were killed in an ambush at Paraolong village, near Moltuk in Chandel district.

Information-that was what the people needed but as things turned out, the Army PRO as well as the PRO of the Assam Rifles were on leave.

The result was there to see the next day with different newspapers giving different tallies of the number of deaths.

The Sangai Express gave the figure of 18 killed, while some newspapers gave it as 20 or 17.

A glaring example of how absence of official spokespersons can rob the public of vital information.

Hope the Union Home Ministry and the Union Defence Ministry take note of this.



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