After facing decades of neglect, the J&K Information and Public Relations Department is all set for a major makeover with Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed keen to see the department emerging on modern lines. To begin with, the department has already set the capacity-building process into motion by strengthening the department, both by way of latest infrastructure and professional human resource.
According to Muneer-ul-Islam, Director Information, the three driving forces for the Department’s rejuvenation are Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Minister of State for Information Priya Sethi and Principal Secretary Information B B Vyas.
He said while Chief Minister initiated the move to have a new refurbished office complex for the Department with modern infrastructure and professional human resource and put in place a new advertisement policy, the Minister of State for Information pioneered the idea of digitization of the department. Similarly, the Principal Secretary Information piloted the idea of overall re-organisation of the Department.
If all goes as per the plan, the Information Department would set an example as the proposal framed to give it a new look matches national standards. “The new proposal focuses not only on the upgradation of the infrastructure but also increasing the manpower. What I have observed is that the department is understaffed and needs immediate government attention,” said Muneer-ul-Islam.
The department, he said, is, on the initiative of the Chief Minister, hiring professional reporters and translators to cope up with the work load and give a professional touch to its functioning. Islam said that after joining the departments there were certain goals which he set. “The department was tremendously understaffed. We had only 25 Information Officers out of 85 needed,” he said. “We suggested the government that we should have professionals in the department and the Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed readily agreed.”
He said the department will engage people on need basis. “There will be now Rs 20,000 monthly remuneration for translators and Rs 25000 for reporters. Earlier, they were hired against meagre Rs 3000,” Islam said. “We have proposed to the government for five translators each for Hindi and Urdu.
He said because of understaffing, the department has not been able to project the complete view of the government. “The press notes should reflect the holistic view of the government’s policy which includes backgrounders and features, which is the case with the Press Information Bureau (PIB) releases,” Islam said. “This is must to give a full picture of the government’s policies and to tell people what exactly is in the government’s mind.”
ON ADVERTISEMENT POLICY:
The Director said department is having in vogue an outdated advertisement policy. “We are having advertisement policy of 1996 which I found somehow replica of the one we were having in 1970. We wanted two things in the department—transparency and institutionalizing things. Director happens to be the overall in charge of issuing the advertisements. He also heads the empanelment for advertisements,” Islam said. “After going through the recommendations of Press Council of India and the policies of New Delhi, Bihar and Kerala, we proposed to the government to constitute a panel and thankfully it agreed. We have a full-fledged panel comprising special secretary finance, one from the home department one from the Kashmir University and one from Jammu University.
He said the department has been working on it and to date they have got 53 representations in writing that is aimed at making the new policy concrete. “These all representatives are as annexure to the new policy. Lot of people has given their suggestions and opinions.
There are four important stakeholders—reader, owner, working journalist, who has largely been ignored, and last but not the least the government. “In the larger interest of the society, the new policy takes care of all stakeholders.
Vernacular media is still powerful in hinterland in Kashmir and also in Chenab valley in Jammu. “The new policy also takes care of this medium also. In a state like ours, that advertisement is not translated into Urdu and Hindi. That way we are not doing justice to the readers,” he said. “Our translators would be translating the advertisements in languages also.”
About big newspapers, the Director said that wage board, employees’ provident fund, insurance and then issuing appointment letters, and other things have to be taken care of. “This is what we have recommended to the government,” he said. “I feel the interests of editors-cum owners of small papers should also be safeguarded.”
He said they have urged the government, especially to the committee on advertisement policy, “to revive the new advertisement policy every year and to revise it after every two years.” “Then there are some news portals, which have some presence on ground, but are not on ground. Those who are really into this business and having their correspondents and other infrastructure and really mean business, which needs to be taken care of,” he said. “The department has also started online advertisement for which the tenders have been floated.” The proposal, he said, will be submitted to the government on August 21 after that the committee will meet and decide the future course.
To bring in transparency, the department has already issued tender notices for issuing online advertisements to the newspapers. “This way judicious balance between various newspapers with respect to advertisements will be maintained as well as proper monitoring in issuance of advertisements can be done at highest level,” he said.
The Director Information said that in Jammu, they have a new office having sufficient space. “In Kashmir, since our office was gutted in early 90’s, we didn’t have the permanent office. We are thankful to the Chief Minister who agreed to allot us the PSC building. We have tried to keep the aesthetic sense of that place in mind,” Islam said. Interestingly, the department is also implementing the recommendations of the interlocutors report that working journalists should have a training mechanism. “In the second phase, we will be having a press conference hall in the new office where some documentaries can be displayed as well,” the Director said. “We also have reading room-cum library and a work station for the journalists. This will also help the journalists of the other States who come to Kashmir for covering events. They can operate from the work station.”
The Director said there will be also a canteen where food would be available at subsidized rates. “There is a space for 50 to 60 vehicles for parking,” he said. In the third phase, he said, there would be lecture hall, waiting room, and also research library. “We have newspapers that date back to early 20th century, which is a treasure for us. We need to preserve this for our future generations,” he said. “We will tie up for the Kerala institute of journalism, who can impart training say three months certificate course to journalists. We can also have workshops for the students during their summer and winter vacations. We can also have a creative writing workshop for the children. In Kashmir the biggest tragedy is that during winter vacations, the only concern for parents is to send their children to coaching centers as there are no hobby classes. We have proposed to have art workshops, interactions with prominent writers and photojournalists etc.”
“Similarly we wish to hold workshops for school going children in Jammu region in collaboration with well established Jammu Press Club.”
There have been cadre reviews in rest of the government departments from time to time. “It would be injustice to say that we need a cadre review. We don’t need only cadre review, we need a complete re-look at the functioning of the department,” he said. The department has framed a detailed proposal to be submitted to the government on how to streamline the functioning of the department. As per the report, the department has proposed to set up new media branch, advertisement branch, field publicity branch, audio visual branch, information and the communication branch. “It is proposed that one Assistant Director, two Information Officers, three Assistant Information Officers, ten information assistants, two senior assistants , two record keepers to the rank of junior assistants, two computer operators and one orderly may be sanctioned for media monitoring/feedback branch,” the department has proposed. “Similarly, for the publication branch, it is proposed to sanction one Assistant Director, One Information Officer each for English, Urdu-Kashmiri and Hindi-Dogri languages. Further, five Assistant Information Officers, in each language with five computer operators for each language and one orderly are also required,” the proposal reads. “Similarly for Record and Reference Branch, one Assistant Director may be sanctioned at the directorate level who will be permanently stationed for the entire year at Srinagar to look after records.”
The department also proposes to have audio-visual section so that policies, programs and developmental activities are disseminated through various local regional and other TV channels and new media.