Thursday, 4 August 2011

Time For An ISPR In The Indian Army?

Is it time for an Indian ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations)? Given its Pakistani origins you could always call it something else as long as it serves the functional tri-service purpose. 

Many will admit the ISPR as the single point media reference is a good concept. It enables the armed forces to get their point across, timely and effectively, which is not the case in India. The three Service HQs in Delhi for instance cannot brief the media unless the Chiefs are doing it. And the chief cannot be briefing the media on every issue affecting the services. As per policies, no briefing is allowed without clearance from the DPR in the Ministry of Defence.

But the civilian DPR lacks the expertise to brief on military matters. Besides, the DPR basically functions as the media outlet for the Defence Minister and matters falling within the domain of the MoD. It leaves the armed forces out on a limbo. Briefings are done informally, no senior officer can be quoted unless it is at some official event where the media are invited. There's no transparency and it leaves the door open for all kinds of mischief. Army sources are sometimes quoted in stories even where there are none.

Therefore the need for an ISPR like system. There is an integrated HQs which could serve as the platform for all official, on record briefings (whether for print or television) by the armed forces. The IHQs combine within them all the three uniformed services, the domain knowledge and insight of each service is permanently present and can be tapped conveniently. But this must be only one part of a broader effort towards transparency.

The existing websites of the three services also requires an overhaul. The sites need to be dynamic, providing regular news briefs ranging from policy and administrative issues to updates regarding on going operations against insurgents/terrorists (without crossing confidential barriers). Senior officers and commanders must be seen and heard on the site, also excerpts of interviews given by key regional commanders to regional and local media apart from staples such as appointments and promotions. Not to forget a photo gallery (which TV and print journalists prize). 

The civilian establishment may see no reason to allow the current state of affairs to change. Despite official reports and recommendations, the armed forces still remain outside the MoD when it should be fully integrated - civilians and the military working shoulder to shoulder in the common cause of national security. Maybe the Indian ISPR can show the way forward.

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