New Delhi: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has constituted an internal group for the cadre restructuring of the Indian Information Service (IIS) to keep pace with the changes in the media, ThePrint has learnt.
“In order to factor in digital media, social media and 24×7 television, the government has decided to restructure the IIS,” a senior IIS official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“The IIS as a service was created keeping only print media in mind… But with the boom of digital media, the nature of the job for IIS officers has changed considerably.”
Among some of the suggestions being considered by the group is to have a uniform policy for outsourcing ministries’ social media work to private companies, bringing in people with new specialisations, etc.
The ministry refused to confirm or deny the development when ThePrint reached it for a comment.
While several ministers have had private public relations agencies’ advisors as staff, the arrangement is neither formalised nor uniform across ministries.
“Also, as of now, it is mostly the ministers who have hired PR agencies, and not the ministries… The government wants all ministries to have PR agencies for handling social media,” added the IIS officer.
Officers of the IIS — an administrative civil service in the country — are the media managers of the government and work in different units, including the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Doordarshan News, All India Radio (AIR) and Directorate of Advertising and Publicity (DAVP). During their tenures, they could be attached to different ministries, constitutional bodies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Election Commission of India or even be posted abroad.
A 24×7 job
A crucial bridge between the government and the media, the job of the IIS officers is now round-the-clock.
“When the service was created, it was just the print media that we were responsible for. But now, there is 24×7 news, social media and digital media,” said a senior PIB officer who didn’t wish to be named.
“Now, just cutting newspaper clippings of the day is not sufficient. There is no time to switch off since you are worried about Twitter trends, prime time debates, etc.”
The restructuring of the roles of IIS officers will factor in the 24×7 nature of the job as well, said the first officer.
A third IIS officer agreed. “In earlier times, we could wait until the night to get a response from the government… But now, if you don’t give the information instantly, it is taken over by misinformation.”
Former principal director general of the PIB, Frank Noronha, said, “In this digital age, the PIB needs to step up and deliver quality and speed… All processes need to be attuned to new requirements because the good old press release is no longer sancrosanct.”
That the IIS is grappling with major shortage of officers does not help. Several IIS officers told ThePrint said there are massive vacancies in the service.
“One officer is handling multiple ministries, and now that every ministry needs 24 hours of attention, we are not able to do justice to all of them,” said the second officer who is currently handling four ministries in the central government, and didn’t wish to be identified.
Noronha, who retired as the principal DG last year, said that the problem of shortage of officers has persisted for a while now. “Even during my time, there was a shortage of at least 30 per cent officers, but for some reason, we have not been able to convince the government that the number of officers needs to go up,” he said.
“Everyone thinks we are overstaffed, but that is not the case at all. The media has expanded exponentially, and so, the PIB needs to expand too… It is not humanly possible to keep up without upgrading the infrastructure, systems.”
Noronha also underscored the need for some structural changes. “The ministries should be divided into high, mid and low decibel ministries, and for the high decibel ones like finance, defense, commerce, etc. you should have 3-4 dedicated officers, and for the low decibel ones, you can form a cluster, and have one officer responsible for them.”
An ‘unfriendly’ government
Some officers also complained that the Narendra Modi government not only keeps its distance from sections of the media but also from some PIB officers.
“We are not called to crucial meetings and are not kept in the loop on many things until the news has already broken somewhere else,” said a fourth officer. “We are often left to just do follow-ups.”
Some PIB officers also claimed to have got instructions from the government to not entertain journalists in the ministries, and only call them to the National Media Centre (NMC).
“We are actively discouraged from calling journalists to the ministries because it is believed that they end up meeting other officers on the pretext of meeting us… But if we are spending a considerable number of hours in the ministry, we cannot tell journalists to not come and meet us there,” claimed the fourth officer who also didn’t want to be named.
Sitanshu Kar, principal DG, PIB, didn’t respond to ThePrint’s queries about these claims.
However, another senior PIB officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, rejected the claims.
“This is a government that is so invested in its public image… They involve us at every step in order to ensure that all its activities are publicised well,” said the officer who is also a member of the IIS Association.