When the public relations fail

Meghachandra Kongbam
During my pursuit of a postgraduate degree in Journalism at Benaras Hindu University in 1978-79, our esteemed Professor BR Gupta, an authority in the field of Public Relations (PR), imparted a profound lesson: “When Public Relations falters within a Government, another form of PR, President’s Rule steps in.” Professor Gupta went on to elaborate on the significance of PR practices in Government, emphasizing their role in fostering mutual understanding between the Government and the public, ultimately contributing to effective governance.
Furthermore, Professor Gupta astutely noted that when PR practices within a Government reach a point of severe dysfunction, failing to establish this crucial mutual understanding, an even more dramatic form of PR emerges: Public Revolt. History has borne witness to numerous instances of public revolts in various countries, some resulting in the removal of sitting Presidents. Such events underscore the critical importance of effective public relations in Government.
Public relations is a captivating subject that demands not only theoretical knowledge but also a deep understanding of the land and its people for those aspiring to become Government PR practitioners. When the time came for me to make a career choice, I opted to serve in the field of Government PR, being a noble profession, which can serve the society as a role of teacher involving information, education and entertainment. This decision was taken when our Head of Department, Anjan Kumar Banerji, who facilitated placements for our graduating class asked to the students about their placements. Several of my peers have since gone on to thrive in both print and electronic media in the National capital.
In recognition of our shared educational journey in journalism and mass communication at BHU, we established the BHU Journalists Alumni Association in New Delhi, where I have the honour of serving as one of the Vice Presidents. This association serves as a testament of the passed-out students to the enduring bonds forged during our academic years and our collective commitment to the field of journalism and public relations.
When I embarked on my career as a Public Relations (PR) practitioner in 1981, assuming the role of District Information Officer in the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), Government of Manipur, I encountered an organizational structure that raised concerns. At the helm was an IAS officer serving as the Director, alongside an MCS Grade-I officer in the position of Additional Director, and a Deputy Director (formerly known as the Publicity Officer) from the MCS Grade-II cadre. Complementing this hierarchy were three Assistant Publicity Officers, an Editor, and a Manager of Publications stationed at the department’s headquarters, along with five District Information Officers overseeing the five districts.
The department, however, faced a persistent challenge in the form of frequent transfers among the IAS and MCS officers, who often regarded their assignments within the department as punitive postings. This situation hindered the department’s ability to engage in professional activities aimed at disseminating Government information effectively to the public and fostering robust public relations with various stakeholders in Manipur. Consequently, the term ‘Public Relations,’ which should have been integral to the Department of Information and Public Relations, was largely disregarded by the Government of Manipur.
This neglect of the importance of PR within the department created a wide chasm between the Government of Manipur and its public, exacerbating numerous crises, including ethnic conflicts. Over time, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened by the lack of professionalism within the department, and my own professional aspirations suffered as a result.
At one point, the Institute of Public Relations in the UK dedicated significant attention to defining the practice of Public Relations (PR), characterizing it as “the deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its public.” However, it is crucial to assess the efforts undertaken by the Government of Manipur to foster and uphold this mutual understanding between the Government and its diverse populace.
(To be contd)