The AP government has come under fire after it announced a decision to hire journalists to perform public relations tasks for the Chief Minister’s Office.
According to a Government Order (G.O.Rt.No.2497, dated December 7), 25 journalists are to be hired on a one-year contract, “to carry out the publicity and other works as Back Office of Hon’ble Chief Minister’s Office.” These journalists are to be paid a monthly remuneration of Rs 51,468, at a total cost to the exchequer of Rs 12,86,700 per month.
The order was greeted with much instant outrage, with many figures criticizing the government for compromising the integrity of journalists with government employment. Senior lawyer and founder of Swaraj Abhiyan Prashant Bhushan tweeted the order on Monday, writing, “Now AP CM officially bribes 25 journos to do his PR & publicly work!”
Communications Advisor to the AP government, Parakala Prabhakar, defended the move and insisted that the entire process was entirely above-board and would not compromise any journalists.
“Prashant Bhushan has understood it wrongly. It is not a bribe, but these people will be on the rolls of the AP government,” he said.
Stating that the team will compromise a mix of journalists and non-journalists, he said that they were being hired for specific tasks. “They will write curtain raisers for AP government events, analyses of our programs, and will summarize for the government how the mainstream media is covering the government.”
When asked if those hired by the government would function as embedded journalists, Prabhakar denied such arrangements. “They will not be embedded journalists. They will not write for any other organisations, while they are employed by the government.”
However, he added, some of their work may be used for the government-produced English and Telugu magazine titled Andhra Pradesh.
He reasserted that the process would be carried out in a transparent manner, and no details would be hidden from the public. “Once the recruitment’s are done, names will be made public. We are recruiting people for their specific skill sets to help the government,” he said.
On the problem journalists face everywhere of their allegiances being suspect once they have accept employment from the government, Prabhakar said that this was a misperception problem and not one the government was responsible for. Giving the example of Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, he said that after working in the Prime Minister’s Office, Baru was able to return to journalism without difficulties.
As for the allegations of trying to bribe journalists, he dismissed them, saying, “We don’t have the budget for big media splurges.”