New Delhi: The
24-month-old Manmohan Singh government, hit by several corruption
scandals, Thursday began an image-building drive by launching
press briefings by a select group of ministers, sidelining the
Press Information Bureau (PIB).
Home Minister P. Chidambaram chaired the first press conference by
the Group of Ministers (GoM), which was constituted by the prime
However, media analysts and officials were divided on the impact.
Government sources said the government wants to avoid a repeat of
the aggressive adverse publicity it got on the recent scams - 2G
spectrum scandal, Commonwealth Games scandal, Adarsh Housing
Society scam and S-Band spectrum scandal. The government also
feels that it had lost the publicity war during the five-day fast
by social reformer Anna Hazare.
The sources added that the GoM will explain its stand on topical
issues that have political ramifications. "The GoM will work in
close coordination with the Congress party", though it has not
been officially stated, they added.
While senior officials in the PIB - the department for the
government publicity comprising professionals - declined to
comment, several former officials of the department and media
analysts felt the effort may not cut much ice.
"As a former head of the government's publicity set-up, I was
surprised at the announcement. In India, we have an effective
organization in the form of the PIB to disseminate information
about policies and programmes of the government, and one has only
to make effective use of it," I. Ramamohan Rao, former principal
information officer (PIO), told IANS.
"Driven to a corner, the government has resorted to the familiar
solution. Entrust the task to a Group of Ministers," Rao added.
Some media analysts felt the government has resorted to the daily
briefing by the GOM, as the professionals in the PIB are bound by
their 'Charter of Conduct' and cannot put forth political
arguments in support of the government.
"It is like blaming the messenger for the bad message. Ultimately,
the government image has been lowered by the recent scams," said
media analyst K. Sreekumar.
"In the final analysis, good publicity cannot be a remedy to bad
"For example, no amount of publicity was able to justify the
decisions taken during the Emergency, the Blue Star Operation, the
Indian Peace-keeping Operations in Sri Lanka and the decision to
implement the Mandal Commission recommendations," Rao said.
The prime minister had constituted the GoM to have a "structured
mechanism to disseminate information and to fill the news vacuum".
Congress sources told IANS the GoM was constituted after
consultations between the prime minister and United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Two other members of the GoM - Information Minister Ambika Soni
and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed - also addressed
Thursday's media conference.
Other members in the seven-member GoM , are Health Minister Ghulam
Nabi Azad, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal,
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and Minister of State
in Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy.
In the inaugural press conference, Chidambaram and other ministers
spoke on several topical issues, including the arrest of Congress
leader Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh Wednesday night, the Supreme
Court verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy trial and terrorist Dawood
Ibrahim, believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
"... The GoM will meet every day at a fixed hour, analyse the
events of the day and issue suitable directions to a nodal officer
to prepare appropriate material for briefing the media," the PMO
circular said. However, it is not clear there will be press
The PMO order has mentioned that a serving officer, or a retired
person on contract, will be appointed the nodal officer of the GoM
, with a secretariat of upto three staff.
The circular said the press conferences would strive to "expand
individual briefings by individual ministers into a collective
effort and fill the news vacuum" especially on contentious issues
on which "rumour-mongering" occurs.
"Whenever needed, the party and the government should talk in the
same voice. That is the purpose behind the exercise," a Congress
leader told IANS.
Though no minister from the UPA constituent parties are
represented in the GoM, individual ministers from the allies will
also address the press conferences, sources said.
"With the GoM dealing with contentious political issues - like the
arrest of Rahul Gandhi in today's briefing - it is likely to draw
flak from opposition parties and defeat the same purpose it has
been created," said Sreekumar.