Sunday, April 1, 2012

DISBAND THE DIRECTORATE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION




The events of recent days have led me to the conclusion stated by the title of this post. The Directorate of Public Information, set up under the aegis of Army HQs in the days following the Kargil conflict, and a successor to the mysteriously named Army Liaison Cell or ALC, has shot itself in the foot...... and with a deftness that defies logic.

The Additional Director General of Public Information (ADGPI), an officer of the rank of Major General, Major General SL Narsimhan and an officer on his staff, Col Hitten Sawhney, Director Media, both, find themselves at the short end of a defamation case because of a ill-advised press release given out by the directorate blaming a retired Lt Gen of several things.

It may indeed be a case of poetic justice, this defamation case, as the directorate had just gotten into a groove of shooting out legal notices to all and sundry at the drop of a hat or writing to or meeting editors of publications/channels after certain news reports appeared not to their liking. It is another matter that seasoned defence journalists were not intimidated by such ham handed actions.

The aim of the directorate, when it was established, if I am correct, was to ensure that the Army got it's point of view across to the media and acted as single window access for all the needs of the media when it came to doing stories on the Army. It did that job admirably well till about recently when it became a handmaiden for the office of the Chief of Army Staff. The failure of this directorate lies in not realising that it represents the Army and not just the Chief of Army Staff.

As the defamation case mentioned above goes to show, the directorate over-stepped its limits. There are ways and means to achieving an end but that does not include giving out direct, unsubstantiated allegations in press releases. That is not only shocking but unprofessional.

The directorate has always been at loggerheads with the official PR set-up of the Ministry of Defence, and it may indeed be a source of amusement to them to see the ADGPI and the Director media facing a defamation suit.

The Army would be well advised to do away with this set-up, which falls under the purview of the Director General Military Intelligence, and devise another outfit which comprises of professionals who know how to deal with the media. It is high time that the Army realises that dealing with the media and media requirements of the Army is a specialised job and it is not necessary that the Corps of Military Intelligence is best suited for it. And whoever gets this task in future needs to remember that individuals are not important, the service is.