Minister's Tussle with Media: Will the Chief Minister Please Pay Attention?

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

In the history of Press in Orissa, September 15, 2014 shall be marked as a black day; because, for the first time in the life of the State, on this day, a Cabinet Minister attacked media in his official chamber in the Secretariat that generated a skirmish to the shock and chagrin of all those who believe that Ministers in a democracy are magnanimous enough never to cause alarm in the Press, despite being confronted with unpalatable questions and provocative innuendoes.

Minister Bijayshree Routray was in acrimonious mood even before entering into the Secretariat; because, evidently he had resorted to browbeating when approached by a TV journalist for update, if any, on land scam rocking the State.

And, in the Secretariat, as TV journalists wanted update on a former minister’s demands for action against land scam offenders, all decency, decorum, discipline and patience expected of a cabinet minister, were discarded under such rush of anger that the consequential skirmish – heretofore never seen – has smeared the face of administration that can hardly be cleansed.

For better appreciation of what happened on September 15, ORISSA MATTERS report dated September 18, 2014 may help. Click HERE to reach the report.

Sad, instead of normalizing the situation with the Chief Minister calling the entire Bhubaneswar Press to an interaction where a norm could have been mutually promoted to eliminate any possibility of repetition of the September 15 showoff, restriction has been imposed on movement of journalists in the Secretariat, where, within or without knowledge of the Chief Minister, denial of entry to CMO even to State accredited journalists has already been in force ever since certain officials there have started dazzling as ‘Super Chief Minister’.

In these pages the syndrome is earlier exposed; yet the Chief Minister has stayed away from the glorious and magnificent tradition his predecessors in the august office had established and maintained in relationship with the Press.

Resultantly, journalists, not in good book of powers that be, feel threatened, alarmed and afflicted.

Democracy is clearly in decadence.

While holding that the journalists should not have crossed words with the acrimonious minister on September 15, I deem it my duty to say, it would be better if the Chief Minister appreciates that unless his colleagues in the cabinet are dissuaded from browbeating the Press as Bijayshree did on that day, the journalists, expect the blue-eyed-boys of powers that be, will continue to stay alarmed under constant fear of conniption any minister may come into any day confronted with any searching question and cause havoc, as well equipped with assaultive power a minister is in the rampart of his office. That shall harm the people.

Remedy lies in restoration of State Information Centre

Its remedy lies not in restricting the movement of media persons in the Secretariat, but in immediate restoration of the State Information Centre to its original stature and state.

The original purpose of the SIC (also named Soochana Bhawan) was to provide the journalists with a domain whereto Ministers and Government spokespersons were to come everyday to brief the journalists on all topics of public importance and to answer to their queries on all relevant matters.

But a former Secretary of Information and Public Relations Ajit Kumar Tripathy sabotaged the purpose of the SIC and converted it into Jayadev Bhawan to fit into his communal design to institutionalize a wrong notion that poet Jay Dev was a Brahmin Baishnav born in Kenduli near Bhubaneswar, though in reality the great love-lyricist of Orissa was a Sahayani Bauddhacharya, born in the now extinct village of Kendubilwa near Puri on the sea, probably where Bilweswar temple now stands. I have discussed Jay Dev in my mega research work ‘Sri Jaya Devanka Baisi Pahacha’ for anybody to see.

However, when a government building was erected for a specific purpose founded and inaugurated by a Chief Minister in cause of people’s right to be informed, a bureaucrat sabotaging that purpose taking advantage of his position as Secretary of Information was blatantly wrong.

This wrong is to be removed and the Press is to be given back its domain equipped with communication instruments and database as well as with a referral library as per original plan. At this SIC, when restored, ministers and official spokespersons will brief the Press, and all press conferences shall be held. The unused and dormant library lying exposed to elements in the Information directorate needs be shifted to SIC on its restoration where all the newspaper/media clippings, which the departmental information officers generate as a routine responsibility, should be archived in this building for journalistic references.

Rabindra Madap be renamed Jay Dev Bhawan

In the past, leaders of Orissa like Harekrushna Mahatab and Biju Patnaik were eager to keep the Bengalis pleased in order not to be adversely reported in national media, as all of the national newspapers with circulation in Orissa were being published from Calcutta. Therefore, they had deliberately named the first auditorium dedicated to music and dance in the capital city of Bhubaneswar by Rabindra Tagore. Orissa’s progressive intellectuals like poet Godavarish Mohapatra had vehemently opposed this, but people in power had their own notorious ability to bulldoze the conscience of the State.

When, therefore, Ajit Tripathy and his associates, in course of executing their hidden agenda to wipe out historicity of the Sahayani Jay Dev under torrents of concocted legends deliberately created by some Hindu chauvinists after his death, wanted to re-name the SIC as Jay Dev Bhawan, there was no visible objection to that from the general public, as the people of Orissa had always been nurturing a silent desire to overcome a grief they had been hit with, when the first hall of music and dance in Bhubaneswar had been named after the Bengali poet Rabindanath Tagore instead of the most popular poet Jay Dev of their own soil, who had epitomized Orissa’s music and dance. That grief was lessened by SIC getting the name of Jay Dev Bhawan.

Now, therefore, if the name Jay Dev Bhawan is to be retained, it should shift to Rabindra Mandap, which in turn, should shift to IDCOL auditorium, that goes without any person’s name.

Information manpower be properly used

After thus the SIC is again available to the Journalists, the government should promulgate a provision making it a must for the ministers to address the Press regularly here in all matters of their respective departments.

in absence of ministers, the departmental information officers should come prepared to meet the queries of journalists and the Secretary of a concerned department must be made to answer online through video conferencing any query that his information officer might not be properly equipped to answer.

The next step that the Government should take, is to recognize the State Information Service as a specialized service, run only by the information specialists, belonging to a distinct and distinguished cadre, under a Head of Department also belonging to the same cadre.

So, be it a must for the State Government to appoint only Information officers as Director of Information, whose unavoidable duty would be briefing the Press on any activity of administration as and when necessary.

If this advice is heeded to, there shall never be any conflict between any minister and media like the one seen on September 15 in the Secretariat Chamber of the Revenue Minister.

The Director of Information and Public Relations, to be thus appointed from the cadre of Information Service, being a specialist in information by education, training, re-orientation and experience, shall not only keep himself abreast of happenings in the State including progress of projects, to successfully meet the queries from media, but also shall guide his team of officers to stay ready with updates in every aspect of administration of the respective departments assigned to them, so that the people of the State cannot be devoid of ready information on any matter that matters to them.

The ignominious assignment to facilitate an appointment of a journalist with a minister, as provided for yesterday, is nothing but non-use of the highly specialized potency the Information Officers have.

Information manpower should not be misspent in hobnobbing between media and ministers.

They have a greater role to play. Let that begun with making the Director of Information and PR a cadre officer with a mission as mentioned above.

The September 15 skirmish between Revenue Minister and Media persons in the State Secretariat has irreparably damaged the image of the State. Let it not happen again and so, let the Journalists be given back the State Information Centre wherefrom they shall operate to the betterment of democracy.

Will the Chief Minister please pay his attention to this suggestion?

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