I&B ministry begins optimising govt-to-citizen connect to counter “fake stories”

Improving the government’s perception both in domestic and global media and ensuring there were no gaps in the way government departments communicate about PM Narendra Modi and his work are likely to be among the top focus areas of the new I&B ministry led by cabinet minister Anurag Singh Thakur and minister of state L Murugun, who took extensive review meetings at the ministry soon after taking charge on Thursday.

ET has learnt that in the review meeting on Friday, I&B secretary Amit Khare briefed the ministers on the work the ministry and its departments have been doing to improve the government’s communication and, more importantly, to counter “fake stories” both in the national and international press.

According to the heads of various departments who attended the review meeting, every day at least two or three departments have been asked to make detailed presentations to the minister, and every official has been asked to come up with innovative and workable solutions to improve the “brand of the country”.

Thakur, son of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister PK Dhumal, is known to be politically aggressive and proactive, and is considered among the younger, more suave faces of the government.

According to sources, Thakur has specifically asked for better communication from government departments on the steps it is taking to address Covid-19 and its fallout on livelihoods, and was specifically insistent that the ministry rebuts any negative perception about the government, particularly in the international press.

“He listened to all views, and now has asked for individual presentations throughout the next week,” an official said.

Both domestic and international media had actively reported how the oxygen crisis and shortage of hospital beds during the second wave of Covid-19 had overwhelmed the health infrastructure of the country. Heart rendering pictures from Indian crematoriums had made it to the international press.

According to senior officials, it is to fill up these gaps that the entire I&B ministry has been overhauled, with Thakur replacing BJP’s senior leader Prakash Javadekar, who was dropped from the cabinet.

“The way PIB of every department communicates has to be more enterprising and suited to contemporary needs… the ones who understand this have to be promoted and there should be training for the rest,” a senior official said.

Among the other challenges the ministry faces is the rising number of petitions, including the one from news agency Press Trust of India recently, against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which mandate a three-tier structure for digital news sites and OTTs, and apprehensions of filmmakers who have openly spoken against the proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act.

Broadcasters have also spoken against the three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for TV broadcasters that the ministry has proposed by amending the Cable Television Networks (CTN) Rules in order to bring them on a par with OTT platforms and digital news platforms.

Thakur is also expected to address the problem of vacancies in national broadcaster Prasar Bharati, apart from coming up with a much delayed review of TV ratings measurement.

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