Union Ministry of I & B underperforms in the Eleventh Plan!

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The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which is charged with the responsibility for catering to the entertainment and intellectual needs of our people and to focus attention on issues of national integrity, communal harmony, environmental protection, health care, family welfare, eradication of illiteracy, development of women, children, weaker sections of society and flagship rural and urban poverty alleviation programmes of the Government of India, has underperformed during the first four years of the current  Eleventh Five Year Plan (April 2007- March 2012) ending March 31, 2011.

Of the total allocation of Rs.6, 311 crores including the enhanced outlay for High and Lower Power Transmitters for Jammu & Kashmir Border Areas, Commonwealth Games 2010 and related programmes for the Plan period, the actual expenditure during the first four years of the Plan ending March 31, 2011, is Rs.1, 917.43 crores. This includes Information sector Rs.254.83 crores, Film sector Rs.198.25 crores and Broadcasting sector Rs.1, 464 crores. This is just 30.38 per cent of the total budgetary allocation for the 11th Plan period, as ascertained from the official sources.

In the current fiscal year, which is the terminal year of the 11th Plan, the situation is no better. At it all, four major programmes of Global Film School, setting up of National Centre of Excellence for Animation, Gaming and Special Effects, National Film Heritage Mission under film sector, and International Channel under broadcasting sector were yet to be accorded necessary approval, whereas the current plan period is to terminate in the first quarter of 2012. The figures speak out in volume the unsatisfactory performances of the Ministry, considered to be broad firmaments for dissemination of official information and publicity.

  With a lackluster Minister Ambika Soni at the helm, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting appears to be presiding over liquidation of the present UPA 11 Government in the 2014 General Elections for its dismal failure on all counts to inform the people about various welfare programmes of the Government in the positive light, thus allowing the people to be carried away by negative publicity, propaganda and campaign in the private media against it (Government) creating a growing public perception that this Government is corrupt, indecisive, non-functional  and somehow tottering. This is also indicative of failure of Ambika Soni in managing politically media to the advantages of the Government. She lacks in right drive and innovative political skills to carry the media with her.

One wonders why is she being continued in this important and high profile portfolio despite her perceptible failure to counter out and out adverse and negative propaganda and campaign in the mushroomed private media!

Coming to the official media units, Press Information Bureau (PIB), which is the prime source media for all official information of the Government, continues to be sliding with its present head, bombastically designated as Principal Director General (Media & Communications), in other words, known as Principal Spokesperson of the Government. She is misfit for the job, having been most unpopular, intemperate, with her inability to carry all the functionaries together and further inability to perform most unpleasant job with pleasure. PIB has lost its sheen except as the platform for briefing by the Ministers on decisions of the Cabinet and other issues. Number of press releases on developmental aspects has declined.

Present day Departmental Publicity Officers are not easily accessible, a glaring deficiency in media and public relations, much less hold the fort in rightly and timely briefing the media persons individually or collectively. Media persons consider it as wastage of their precious time and energy in maintaining rapport with the media managers in the Bureau. Everything appears to be adrift. Data relating to number of press releases is fudged. One is at ones wits end why such incompetent chief media manager is allowed to continue at the helm, when there are precedents of outright removal of two such professionals in the past, who were competent and popular with the media, They were Dr.A.R.Baji during Emergency in 1976 and the second S, Narendra in 1998 during the NDA Government.

The continuance of the present incumbent, who is unable to establish right chord with the media, is understood to be a parochial nexus with the Minister and the PM. Nothing more. Nothing less. The way she messed up with the much tom med Public Information Campaign or Media Out reach Programme on the flagship welfare measures of the UPA Government on the specious suggestion of the lady controller of accounts in the Ministry that the same may be handed over to the States for handling such publicity, notwithstanding the large scale siphoning of Central funds by the state governments with impunity, a case is made out to dispense with such non-performing official at the helm in order to reactivate PIB in dishing out multi-lingual and multi-media all round publicity of the Government.

 As for Prasar Bharati comprising All India Radio and Door Darshan, they have got oft-repeated alibis as a public broadcaster not linked with commercial and profiteering to hide their inertia, incompetence and underperformance, notwithstanding the fact that such excuses cannot be stumbling block for improving programme contents, developmental contents of news services and launching new marketing strategies to enhance their revenues. Perhaps Ambika Soni has no time to goad them in action to bring about perceptible improvements in the broadcasting services to the nation. All left to the private electronic media, the country will be in for heightened social tensions and more and more chaos.

DAVP (Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity) is mired in releasing advertisements to small and medium newspapers on quid pro quo of cuts and commission basis and over invoicing of its propaganda and campaign literature whereas actual printouts of such materials is much less. Such malpractices are a game of fudging data and nice presentation to the authorities that every thing is honky dory in a collusive culture where everybody colludes with everybody else to eat up and milk the system from within. The Minister is busy politicking and has no time to look into such malpractices. Same syndrome is prevailing in the RNI (Registrar of Newspapers for India) where nothing moves without underhand and under table speed money.

Other important media units like Directorate of Field Publicity (DFP), Songs & Drama Division, Publications Division and Films Division, which have been doing very good works, have been truncated and are morbid and moribund with the Government in the Ministry of I & B, euphemistically known as Ministry of Inertia (Incompetence) & Bureaucrats (non-functional) at the apex.

This, in short, sums up the gross mismanagement of the publicity and propaganda machinery of the Government of India under the stewardship of Ambika Soni, who has failed miserably to contain the drift!

the writer M.Y.Siddiqui is ex. director Public relations for Railways and Law and Justice Ministry, Govt. of India.

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