Neelam Kapur, the youngest ever principal spokesperson of the Government of India, heads the Press Information Bureau in an era when media has moved from the traditional print and television journalism to include the internet, non-institutionalised reportage and opinion pieces by citizen journalists. Kapur is, however, unfazed.
How have things changed in your dealings with the media in the last few decades?
When I joined the service, there was one briefing in a day. After the Iraq war, television channels changed the way things are done. There are hourly, and sometimes more frequent, updates on news developments.
What is PIB’s biggest challenge?
Our constant challenge is how to get your point across. Today, with YouTube and other media, you can see what’s happening in a given situation, minutes after it happened. The number of mobile users is huge. It’s an entire world out there on the internet.
What’s the agenda for the immediate future?
The question for us is how do we develop brand government of India (GOI)? Rather than a bland text statement, why not something visual? A journalist in Chennai reporting something a minister said would get a sense of body language, facial expression, and even the context in which a particular remark was made. Announcements will come as a one-minute clip. The impact of visual story is tremendous. So we started that. We hope to issue official tweets from PIB soon — may be alerts about briefings, about GOI schemes. It could also be about the thought behind a particularly important decision. We’re also planning a presence on Facebook and YouTube.
What about the rural population, has the focus shifted from them?
No absolutely not. The GOI is federal. Many aam aadmi programmes are implemented by state governments. Through our public information campaigns we take Bharat Nirman to the people, so they know what’s available to them. We’re taking it to the urban slums too. The departments of field publicity, the song and drama division, PIB and other wings of the government really slog to make the PIC a campaign that attracts people’s attention.
How do you handle sensational news?
We identify potentially “sensitive situations”. For instance we did a lot of good work during the Mangalore Air Crash, or when the Ayodhya report was expected. In such scenarios we ensure that there is accurate information provided that is authorised by the government. The media too is under tremendous pressure to get information to audiences in record time. We make sure they get information that is factually accurate and fast. Often this means simultaneously monitoring multiple television channels and websites at the same time to ensure that incorrect information that could incite public sentiments are not erroneously put out.