PRCI GLOBAL COMMUNICATION CONCLAVE IN GOA…saw several dignataries and invitees on stage, pic above has Minister of Art & Culture Govind Gaude who did the honours giving away many of the awards. Alongside with him are PRCI’s key movers including chairman MB Jayaram, K Ravindran and others. There were several back-to-back conference sessions, including one on Communication in the New Decade’ which saw participants from English dailyHerald’ editor Alexandre Moniz Barbosa, Vikant Sahay (senior assistant editor, Herald) and Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra (independent journalist/documentary filmmaker); another session of `Health Efforts in Covid Pandemic’ featured Abbas Akhter (GM, BPCL), Dr Shekhar Salkar of Manipal Hospital, Ram Singh Rathor (president, United Singh Sabha Foundation.

At the 15th Global Communication Conclave organized by the Public Relations Council of India…

TARA NARAYAN reads in between the lines at the mega awards weekend organized by the Public Relations Council of India in Goa, recently.

IT is no storm in a teacup to take lightly. Is the thin line between journalism and public relations become threadbare now? What comes first? Media print, electronic or digital – the critical fourth estate in a democratic country and as detailed in the Constitution of India (rates as one of the best by global standards), or is life all about public relations now stepping happily into the footwear of the hard world of journalism?
Is it a story of journalism or public relations or journalism versus public relations? Or even public relations and journalism? Is it then all about what comes first, the chicken or the egg? The Public Relations Council of India’s recent event which took place in Goa raises some uncomfortable questions about what is happening to the media in the country. The truth was fairly clear by the end of the 15th Global Communications Conclave organized by the enormously influential Public Relations Council of India for the first time in Goa, at a distant hotel venue from capital city Panaji, on September 17-18, 2021.

THE high-powered public relations event fielded a gamut of issues and one found oneself wondering if the world of public relations is merging more and more into the world of print media, electronic media, increasingly digital media? It brought out palpably and with dismay how paradigm shifts are taking places to finger the cardinal principles of democratic values, including the freedom to think and speak, perhaps unwittingly into the hands of persons and groups who may do enormous good or for that matter enormous harm!

Public Relations Council of India conferred awards to a roll call of winners…. here are K Balasubramanian with his wife Radhika who got the Anil Basu Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award; everyone recognised popular artist Hema Sardesai who livened up the awards ceremony; some corporate winners got multiple awards and were happy to pose with their trophies!

ON the surface it may not at first appear to many present at the gala PRCI global communication conclave, which was actually an excellent exercise in public relations in journalism! The media is the Fourth Estate, or forth pillar of democracy. Public relations is not. One may be forgiven if one is confused and left wondering where the idea of a noble profession ends and the idea of a commercial profession begins? Surely, media platforms and their focus on creating and protecting a country of liberal values can never be underestimated?
The PRCI event was a dazzling jamboree of awards being dished out to just about everybody in the hall. There were a long list of awards in the form of certificates and sleeker hardware trophies acknowledging excellence in communication be it in PR presentations for companies or government brochures as also some local media people in Goa (as an afterthought perhaps).
Some of the awards are named after old-timers who have earned name and fame in both public relations as also journalism (for example, MV Kamath, former veteran journalist and chairman of Prasar Bharati, also one time editor of the much read `The Illustrated Weekly of India’ after Khushwant Singh was sacked by the Times of India management).
It is a startling pointer to the manner in which public relations has merged into media platforms (which are usually vouched for by the Press Council of India) with a focus on wooing media – though corrupted and adulterated as it may be today! It is no longer news that the print media especially is down in the dumps today and electronic and digital media swamping the media scene in a myriad ways to just survive. Another question arises: Is the media losing its voice while public relations is displacing it and acquiring a louder, larger brief? Call it public relations-journalism combos if you like! It is becoming difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends and vice verse.
HEY, in the last seven years in this country the media world has become vulnerable and not only also because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. Has anyone bothered to find out how many media people have lost their jobs and are desperately looking for ways to stay alive? Many small media companies are trying to survive by online presentations good or bad but without adequate revenue to even retire with dignity.
Many of us know how the troubled world of media is crumbling today if not on its knees, trying to keep its head above water…so that it may not get too battered to drown in a bitter death and oblivion. Hoping against hope that the worst of political chicanery will be over sooner rather than later and a level playing field will be restored for all to breathe the air of freedom anew. The freedom one is fighting for is the first freedom to think, stand up for what one thinks is right even if everyone else disagrees…and not fear to express the joi de vivre of life so precious to many.

THE challenge in the media today is how to stay safe and not become victims or putty in the hands of those who play dirty for power and pelf. If the political powers-that-be in a country play dirty can the media too play dirty to survive and how far may it go in this respect? Is going the public relations way to soothe a few wrongs, in some way rectify larger wrongs…can anything be achieved through appeasement by awards which sound grand but mean little oftentimes?
Nowadays there are many awards being showered around as if they mitigate anything. In a world rapidly degenerating into anarchy and sense of doom…people live in fear wondering what another tomorrow will bring, more bad news or good news. Increasingly, one is required to choose between a multiplications and division of truths, lies and justifications.
Please, this is not to decry the PRCI gala awards event which was a successful and meticulously planned affair to earn brownie points and revel in spreading feel good vibes all around and to the extent possible.

SOME WOW TOGETHERNESS! A group photo of corporate winners and proud family at the PRCI conclave.

BUT it was a mega jamboree of dishing out small, medium and big awards — hardware trophies of various denomination — to just about everyone who came or was invited as special guests at the event (mostly corporate people). In this case it is a group of hard-headed professionals who have nursed and enabled the growth of the public relations industry in the country.
But public relations cannot be seen as on par with hard, cold world of media on several fronts including, doing its best to report, analyse the life and times of a people. Even as the people are forced to bend, bow, crumble, get sucked into oblivion, courtesy governments which do not see life beyond its own survival, but seek to reap power forever till whatever the end may be!
Public relations and journalism are bona fide mediums of communication but vastly different in their goals. The cardinal rationale of public relations is surely to communicate effectively, creatively, to sell something, be it product or service to consumers. It is true that public relations organisations work operate via the visibility of varied media platforms — be it broadcasting, all manner of print, television, electronic media, and now there is the freewheeling world of social media, where oftentimes the truth goes amuck with more lies and promises than the truth.
Public relations is paid services subscribing to good communications, no more. It is by no stretch of imagination the Fourth Estate of Democracy which seeks to present as close to mirror image as possible a world in transition regardless of whether it is good, bad or ugly. Across political conflicts there there is a high value placed on media people to speak the truth be it sweet, sour or bitter — against a wide spectrum of history past and present, considering backgrounds, premises and situations.

IT IS not the media’s business to cater to the small or big needs of communications for promoting the commercial causes of small or big business companies, government or public sector giants or private corporations. Public relations is salesmanship at its best or worst! But it is not journalism and not the media per se no matter how hard it may try to be.
The relationship between public relations and media worlds is finite, not infinite. Both have defined places which may not intrude on each other’s space like perhaps they do today…we see so much easy, freewheeling overlapping, to suit the narrative of salesmanship or the carrot and the stick incentive to bow before the winds of change ….or else it is get lost in oblivion.

IN A SENSE it is a sad irony that while once PR was at the mercy of media, today the reverse as true and media people struggle to earn something from advertising agencies in exchange for what is called advertorials and now recognized as such. Discerning readers do appreciate the difference. Media is at the mercy of public relations hand-outs as also government hand-outs. No matter how sugar-coated the “candies” we all know how carcinogenic refined sugar is for the health of a society!
So it was at the just over PRCI’s jamboree of awards at the 15th Global Communication Conclave in Goa. In fact, after listening in to the honourable back-to-back 15th Global Communication Conclave celebration talks, by various lightweights and heavyweights of the media and PR world, and generous dishing out of awards to those gracing the two-day PR-cum-media-cum-social event — Governor Pillai, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Minister of Culture Govind Gaude did the various award-giving honors, one thing was clear. We need to define and differentiate the roles played by public relations and media platforms anew with more clarity, lest they have become confused!
A quotation to think over: “As we operate in a world where press freedom is nose-diving, and the need for robust, reliable journalism grows, the future for journalism is dependent on groups like The Wire.” This was an acute observation made by the IPI and IMS observers, while handing over the Free Media Pioneer Award 2021, at a ceremony held in Vienna in Austria, recently. An observation worth cherishing for whatever it is worth and surely priceless.
In contrast, one may point out that most of the PRCI awards were collected by PR representatives of various companies of the public sector. Any one of which may one of these days sell off to private players by Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman, on the orders of Prime Minister Narendara Modi of course. Could be the PRCI in sympathy and empathy is sweetening the sales deal in advance!

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