When the Public Relations fail

Meghachandra Kongbam
Contd from previous issue
Manipur is a region with a unique demographic landscape, being home to the major Meitei community in the valley, as well as 35 officially recognized tribes residing in the hills, each possessing its distinct identity, culture, and language. While Manipuri serves as the common language for communication among various communities in the State, it’s essential to recognize that the public in Manipur is far from homogeneous. It comprises numerous groups, each with its own interests, and at times, these interests may even conflict with one another.
As a result, effective PR in Manipur necessitates a comprehensive approach that involves evaluating the attitudes and concerns of each segment of the public. It mandates the establishment of a consistent flow of communication directed towards these diverse groups to keep them well-informed about the policies and initiatives of the state government. This communication serves the dual purpose of not only informing the public but also cultivating a sense of civic responsibility and citizenship among the people.
In practice, the task of PR in regions like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar may appear comparatively more straightforward when contrasted with the challenges faced in the North Eastern States, where there are over 300 distinct ethnic communities. Managing PR in such a multifaceted and diverse environment demands a heightened level of sensitivity, adaptability, and strategic planning to navigate the complexities of fostering mutual understanding between the Government and its intricate tapestry of constituents.
We’ve observed that the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, responsible for managing the public relations (PR) efforts of the Central Government, is staffed by PR professionals from the Indian Information Services. These officers receive their training at the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi.
The neighbouring States such as Assam, Nagaland, and Mizoram have recognized the vital role of effective PR in fostering peaceful coexistence and development among their diverse populations. In these States, the Department of Information and Public Relations is staffed by professionals from their respective State Information Services. Notably, they have established Public Relations offices at the sub-divisional level to ensure the doorstep delivery of Government information, recognizing the significance of direct communication with their public.
Given the positive impact that dedicated PR professionals and information or PR centres have had in neighbouring States, it raises a pertinent question: Why does Manipur not adopt a Manipur Information Service to enhance its PR capabilities, including the creation of PR centres at the sub-divisional level ? Addressing this question does not imply that Manipur would fragment; rather, it underscores the importance of effective PR in maintaining unity, fostering understanding, and driving development. By adopting similar strategies to neighbouring States, Manipur could potentially strengthen its relationship with its diverse population, thus promoting peace and progress.
While serving in the Department of Information and Public Relations, Manipur, I frequently encountered challenges stemming from the presence of non-professional senior officers. However, I found a more conducive environment for carrying out my professional duties during my tenure at the Manipur Information Centre in New Delhi, where I served as Joint Director for a decade. During this period, the then Chief Minister, Shri Okram Ibobi Singh, recognized the importance of effective public relations in building a positive image for his Government. He took decisive steps to ensure that the department was exclusively managed by PR professionals.
In the latter part of 2016, I was transferred back to the department’s head office in Imphal. Unfortunately, by this time, the momentum needed to propel the department towards its desired goals had been lost. There was a significant staff shortage within the department, which later prompted the recruitment of media professionals to fill vacant positions. The change in Government leadership, with the BJP Government led by Shri N Biren Singh assuming power in March 2017, marked my promotion to full-fledged Director in late 2017, just before my retirement in February 2018.
Regrettably, my dreams of fostering a more professional PR environment within the department remained largely unfulfilled. Following my retirement, the department reverted to its previous state with the appointment of a non-professional officer as Director. Consequently, the department struggled to expand its reach, especially in the remote hilly districts of Manipur. This posed a significant challenge to effectively disseminating government policies and programs and establishing mutual understanding between the government and its constituents, particularly in far-flung areas.
Furthermore, Chief Minister Biren Singh, who had previously served as the Editor of a vernacular newspaper, appeared to overlook the department responsible for PR in the State. He did not prioritize professionalization within the department and instead relied on a social media platform like “Anouba Manipur” to communicate his activities. This negligence and failure to leverage Government media and PR resources likely contributed to the breakdown in mutual understanding between the Government and its public, coinciding with the eruption of ethnic crises and the emergence of disunity among the populace.
In contrast, we can observe a more proactive approach in States like Assam, under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma, where the Department of Information and Public Relations plays a pivotal role in Government activities. A similar dynamic is evident in Nagaland and Mizoram, highlighting the significant impact that effective PR and Government media can have in fostering public understanding and unity.
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.
(To be contd)