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                                                                                                                                  S. C. Bhatt


The question used to be asked some years ago: Was a centralised agency needed for the Press? No longer does this question arise and trouble the minds of today’s media. They know their powers as much as limitations and generally are not hedgy about what they require to facilitate their work.
       The reason mainly is that in this age of fast moving media there is no time for asking and debating issues which have, in any case, acquired an academic interest. In fact, most media are thankful for the existence of a centralised agency.
      In any case, there is a crying need for an agency to inform and interpret the policies and actions of the Government to the people who are the ultimate masters. In the absence of a better agency, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), is the best suited to perform that task through the media. One cannot visualise a better link than the PIB between the Government and the media.
       How did the word Bureau come into being? In the old British days, the organisation came into being as the Bureau of Public Information (BPI). The name was a little inappropriate inasmuch as the Bureau was not conceived as an office where the public could get information on the doings of a foreign government. The colonial rulers were often secretive but some high-minded persons who manned the set- up in the earlier days were bold enough to think of serving the Press in a proper manner.
       The BPI, no doubt, performed its task under the colonial rule well. Then came Independence and the Government of free India saw quickly the value of a centralised agency to service the Press. In those days only the print media mattered. But soon the radio effectively voiced the feelings of a newly independent people and the definition of the Press went on changing.

        The Press Information Bureau (PIB) gradually expanded and sought to serve the regional Press which was growing almost by leaps and bounds. An airbag service was introduced as soon as such facilities were in position and the teleprinter was pressed into service simultaneously. Now PIB has 39 regional and branch offices throughout the country. Eight of them are regional offices and now computers link most of them.
         But Delhi is the hub of all political and, therefore, media activities and it is in Delhi that the headquarters of the PIB are situated. Some 1,400 accredited correspondents work out of Delhi, including a number of foreign journalists, TV cameramen and women, photographers and photojournalists.
Most of them also cover the two Houses of Parliament which, however, have their own set -up for accreditation. For the PIB a committee of journalists scrutinises every fresh application, lays down rules and generally oversees the functions of the PIB in the matter of accreditation.
         The correspondents are provided with facilities to cover the activities of the different ministries and departments of the Central Government, visits of foreign dignitaries – the most important of which was the US President’s visit in March this year, conducted tours and the like. The holder of a PIB accreditation card is also entitled to attend government press conferences open to the media.
Facilitation of the correspondents’ work is thus one of the principal functions of the Press Information Bureau. The facilities are always limited. There is a system of pooling of facilities in several countries which shows that the problem exists elswhere abroad as well.
         But the evolution of the PIB has ensured that these limited facilities are more or less evenly distributed although complaints are made that preference is shown to important media among which, naturally, those operating in English figure. Attempt is, however, made to take note of the presence of correspondents of outstation media who are specially deputed by their principals to cover events in Delhi.
        The regional and branch offices of the PIB cater to the Indian language print media as well as the local Press in English and Hindi to the extent possible. Naturally, the offices have to work in coordination with the offices of the respective State governments. Often there is a healthy competition between the two which is all to the good because the regional Press is thus served better.

        The PIB has Assistant Information Officers, Information Officers, Deputy Principal Information Officers, Directors of Information and Additional Principal Information Officers who visit their respective Ministries in the early part of the day and acquaint themselves with the likely news developments and then are available to the accredited correspondents, generally after the lunch, for answering their queries and for making available publicity material to them. This is put out in different forms like press notes, official and unofficial handouts, backgrounders and so on.
           The Principal Information Officer (PIO) who heads the Bureau, has onerous responsibilities of running the set-up as well as briefing the correspondents about important stories like Cabinet meetings. When major stories break, the PIO comes into the picture for he or she has to organise a briefing on the issue. The PIO and other Bureau officers have also to be alerted when the two Houses of Parliament are in session because more often than not important stories break there and the presence of the officers is helpful in providing them useful material and background.
           If such duties are efficiently performed the correspondents are often full of gratitude. The effectiveness of an officer is known when he has ready answers to the many queries the media have or is able to get such answers quickly, whether the matter pertains to Parliament or otherwise.
         The PIB officers have another responsibility also. They have to provide the feedback on their ministries’ policies and programmes to their Ministers and officers in the Ministries. If such feedback is effectively provided, the doubts and suspicions of the media are soon cleared and a factual and favourable image of the concerned Ministry is projected. The officers have also to make arrangements for scheduled and hastily called media conference of their Ministries. They have to brief their Ministries and get them ready to answer questions which agitate the minds of the mediapersons.
         The PIB has yet another duty to perform. Features are prepared by the concerned PIB officer and are commissioned from noted writers and subject specialists. These are made available to the media, often in the languages in which they appear. These are generally well received by various sections of the print media and even the TV and other electronic media who use the material for padding up their stories. It is essential that the features are well written and contain enough substance.
          Photo service is yet another special service regularly provided by the Bureau to the media. The PIB has an extensive photo library and it is estimated that some one million photos, some of them of rare historical value, exist in the albums. Every year hundreds of thousands of photographs are given away free, apart from the regular service of providing photographs of the day’s events. These are made available to newspapers throughout the country, by the regional and branch offices and the head office, by the airbag system and through the latest technique of telephoto. Ebonoid blocks are also supplied to newspapers which do not have facilities for using photographs straightaway. To each according to its need is supposed to be the motto.

         Over the years the PIB has expanded enormously and there could be deficiencies in its services.The human elements could also fail. The responsibility of the PIO and the offices has increased in proportion to the expansion and the expectations of the media have also grown. They are also in search of what is known as the scoop and for that they have to depend generally on their own resources. The media have also to show awareness of their social responsibility and their credibility and truthfulness.
          So far as the future is concerned, there does not seem to be any possibility of individual ministry having its own set-up and India is destined to have the present system of a centralised media facilities pattern which the PIB signifies. The PIB officers have to realise the great potential of the present facilities which the institution offers and have to use them as effectively as possible.



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