I feel sad when I see management of public affairs by different government bodies like our armed forces.
I came across one of its poor handling of media today (Friday, July 16). At around 12 noon, I received a call from a colleague of mine from my office. “An army major has been ARRESTED with 780 bottles of phensidyl. He was held along with an accomplice. We are trying to reach ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations Directorate), but no one is responding.”
I phoned the Director’s number to see no one at the other end. I rang one of his deputies. “Oh, you may call …. because I am no more with the ISPR.” I rang the other guy and no one was there. I left an SMS to the Director’s number seeking their version of the incident. After around an hour, the gentleman called me back. In the next half an hour, we chat for couple of times. The ISPR would not provide any version.
During my conversation with the gentleman, I tried to convey two messages: 1. Your version is important for the public; 2. All other media will report it as well;
Now, I don’t know how many media contacted him for his version. Professionalism these days is really unimportant to many. With my call, he had a chance to shape up the debate the news will create.
I have been in journalism since 1996 and it is my understanding that there is a gulf of differences between how the armed forces look at our media and how the media look at our armed forces. The attitude of the people working for the armed forces towards the people working for the media and vice versa has no difference. They are both apparently ‘hostile’ towards each other. It was vividly written by Dr Rizwan-ul-Alam in his book on Military-Media Relations in Bangladesh perspective.
A professional newsman always craves for news. When they get a story on the army, they just jump on it. The information they receive from different non-army sources shape up their mind and they write the story. Often they try to knock the door of the army to see it shut as ever. Instantly they don’t get the feedback and try not to miss their deadlines.
When shaping the public debate is a major issue in the west, we are still pursuing old-fashioned “hush hush” policy.
I am sure our armed forces are smart enough to build up a prompt public affairs mechanism in this age of 24 ×7 news environment.