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RECOLLECTIONS OF A COMMUNICATOR:National Media Centre took two decades to materialize (Re-issue)

New Delhi, Aug. 25 (ANI): It was a personal satisfaction to me to be present at the opening of the new complex for the National Media Centre in the capital, a project which was conceived by me when I was the Principal Information Officer of the Government of India in 1989.

The project was one of the steps that I had taken to implement the suggestions made by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to me in 1985 to improve the facilities for the press in the country. However, in actual implementation, it was not easy to get the proposals sanctioned through normal channels in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In one of my interactions with Sam Pitroda, who headed the Technology Missions in the Press Information Bureau, I had mentioned to him that it was very difficult to get sanctions to install modern communication facilities for the Press at the Press Information Bureau. Sam Pitroda told me that he would help me in my task.

The next I knew was that the Director General of the Central Public Works Department, Harish Chandra, came to inspect the facilities at the Press Information Bureau at Shastri Bhavan and modernize the Press Conference Hall. It took less than six months to implement those changes.

On my return after a visit to the United States and Japan, I felt that India too should have a National Media Centre, where the national Press should have work stations in the Press Information Bureau, to enable media personnel to collect information and disseminate it without delay to newspapers and agencies, within the country and abroad.

The PIB had information officers serving the various ministries of the Government of India and had forty odd regional and branch offices to disseminate information and provide feedback to the Government of India. It was also home to the External Publicity Division.

To start with, I was able to establish a work room for the Press within the premises of the Press Information Bureau and persuade the Department of Post and Telegraphs to establish a facility for sending fax messages, as also to receive Press Telegrams. I was also able set up facilities for a modern canteen which was serviced by Kanishka Group of hotels.

Before the pace could gather momentum, the Rajiv Gandhi Government fell. The facilities available at Shastri Bhavan was considered modern enough by the media personnel.

But the proposal to have a National Media Centre on the lines of the facilities available in the United States and Japan could only be given another push when Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao took over as Prime Minister. When I mentioned to him the details of the project, he called his Principal Secretary, Mr Amarnath Verma, and asked him to coordinate the proposal with the Urban Development Ministry, along with another proposal that I had mooted for new premises for the Press Club of India, which was functioning from a World War II hutment on the Raisina Road.

Both the projects got official sanction before I retired in 1992. The Media Centre is now a reality, while the Press Club is still functioning from its old premises. It has taken two decades for the media centre to materialize, but better late than never.

It was nice to hear today Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, endorse the ‘watchdog role of the media’ while inaugurating the National Media Centre. Senior media personnel from different parts of the country had participated in the inaugural ceremony and have a close look at the facilities available in the new complex.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the National Media Centre a milestone in public engagement, and expressed the hope that it would develop into a ‘communications hub’ and reflect the vibrant mood of the country.

He underlined the need for journalists to enquire and quest for answers but cautioned against ‘witch hunt journalism’. In the final analysis, he pointed out that the media should be ‘credible’. Information Minister Manish Tewari hoped that the set up will be a vibrant institution to meet the needs of the media.

The Press Information Bureau, headed by Ms Neelam Kapoor, now has the advantage of a world class media centre to disseminate information about government activities. The available facilities are one side of the coin. The government should also be transparent to enable the media in its effort to participate in the process of governance to establish credibility.

Incidentally, when I had set up the miniature National Media Centre in the Press Information Bureau, Mr Upendra Vajpayee a senior journalist came to me and told me that he had established a National Media Centre in Gurgaon and requested me to give the centre in Shastri Bhavan a different name. In response, I named facility at Shastri Bhavan as National Press Centre. Today, the National Media Centre in Gurgaon has remained a Housing Society and the National Press Centre is a media hub.

I.Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer. Govt. of India. He may be contacted at [email protected] (ANI)