Srinagar: The Minister for Information, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Choudhary Zulfkar Ali on Sunday said that besides acting as a bridge between the Government and the media, the Department of Information is the biggest source of news and advertisements for the newspapers in the State.
Speaking during his maiden interaction with the office-bearers and members of the Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) here Zulfkar Ali said the Government cannot ignore importance of media as the forth pillar of the democracy and that is why the State Government is besides huge advertisement support providing infrastructure support as well to the media by way of office accommodation and other facilities.
“In addition to releasing thousands of press releases and photographs for publication every year, the Department of Information is issuing budget and non-budget advertisements to the tune of around Rs 35 crore per annum to the newspapers,” the Minister said adding that the newspaper editors and working journalists are also being provided office/residential accommodation through Estates Department both at Srinagar and Jammu, an official spokesperson said.
Secretary Information, M H Malik, Joint Director Information (Headquarters) Abdul Majid Zargar and Deputy Director Information (PR), Sheikh Zahoor and other officers were also present during the interaction.
“The Department of Information holds the key in facilitating smooth information and advertisement flow to the print and the electronic media in the State,” the Minister said adding that it acts as a bridge and a coordinator between the government and the media.
The Minister said the Government is more than willing to seek constructive suggestions from the journalists on how to improve its relations with the media.
“While the Government is already providing around Rs 30 crore advertisement support per annum to the newspapers in the State, we are ready to extend whatever other facilities including insurance cover to the media-persons to facilitate their smooth functioning,” he said and added that a separate advertisement policy is also being formulated for the electronic and the digital media to provide them the requisite financial support.
The Minister said the Accreditation Rules have been revised after a gap of almost two decades and the New Accreditation Rules would be notified shortly.
He said the operational modalities for the “Journalists Welfare Scheme” are being finalized for which the Government has already earmarked an amount of Rs 2 crore. He said the revision of advertisement rates is also being finalized by the Government.
Earlier, the KEG members, while welcoming Choudhary Zulfkar Ali for assuming charge of the Information Department said that appointment of a full-fledged minister for the Information Department shows the Government’s eagerness to bring up the Department as a professional organization with professional manpower.
“We think it is a good step to assign independent charge of the Information Department to a Minister as the department was craving for government attention to address various issues confronting DIPR,” they said.
The KEG members called for restricting release of advertisements to what they called “bogus newspapers” which they said have mushroomed in Kashmir over a period of time and are brazenly resorting to plagiarism.
They said only the newspapers and periodicals which have ethical standing (and) are run professionally should be encouraged by providing such publications with adequate advertisement support.
They stressed the need for putting in place a proper categorization mechanism for the release of advertisements so that the serious and professional publications could be incentivized.
On allocation of advertisements to the newspapers, the KEG members suggested that besides, taking into consideration circulation and reach of a newspaper, DIPR should also constitute a special cell which will do regular “content analysis” of newspapers to check for the “originality of their editorial and other content”.
The KEG members also called for weeding out the lot of “pseudo journalists”, who have also mushroomed over a period of time, by denying them accreditation and other facilities by DIPR.
They called for putting a strict mechanism in place to ensure that no pseudo journalist gets the Accreditation card.
They said accreditation should not be a “gate-pass”, but should be a “certificate” of a professional’s work, and should be exempted from any kind of political intervention.
The Minister was also asked to include editors from both languages Urdu and English in accreditation panel list.
Regarding setting up of Srinagar Press Club, the KEG demanded that the building identified for the purpose should be handed over by the Government to the Editors Guild so that it can independently raise the requisite infrastructure there and workout the modalities on how to make the Press Club operational.
The KEG members also called for de-linking DIPR from the combined services to groom it as a thoroughly professional department with deployment of professionally qualified manpower.
“Recalling the resolve and commitment of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to rejuvenate the Information Department,” the official spokesperson while quoting the KEG members said, “Mufti Sahab was fully aware of the importance of the DIPR and was keen to take tangible steps, including strengthening the Department by way of infrastructure and bringing in professional human resource to make the department work on professional lines.”
The KEG members assured the Minister that they are fully supportive of the reforms and the transparency being brought in by the Department in the advertisement distribution system and release of payments.
However, they added that while implementing new measures the Department should consult the Kashmir Editors Guild as and when required.
Welcoming the suggestions from the KEG on categorization, accreditation, journalist welfare scheme, setting up of press club, revision of rates for the newspaper advertisements, launching of health insurance scheme for journalists, rationalization of advisement distribution and professionalization of DIPR, the Minister said the Government is more than willing to receive any kind of suggestions to improve the existing system.
The KEG members who were present at the meeting included Masood Hussain, Editor Kashmir Life; Rashid Makhdoomi, Printer & Publisher, Greater Kashmir Group of Publications,; Tahir Mohi-ud-Din, Editor Chattan; Manzoor Anjum, Editor Uqab; Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, Editor Afaaq; Raja Mohi-ud-Din, editor Tameel-e-Irshad; Haji Mohammad Hayat, Printer & Publisher, Kashmir Reader; Haroon Rashid Shah, Editor, Nidai-e-Mashriq; Sajjad Haider, Editor Kashmir Observer and others.