Public Relations

Public Relations the actions of a corporation, organisation, government, individual, etc in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc. Public Relations (PR) is closely related to mass communication and journalism and embraces almost all branches of human activity. Organisations appoint PR personnel to promote their services and business as well as for image building. The responsibilities of a public relations officer (PRO) include organisation, co-ordination and designing of PR programme for creating and maintaining good will towards his organisation. S/he needs support and cooperation from everybody in the organisation in these works and also in implementing the tasks in line with the programme.

Former US President Thomas Jefferson used the words 'public relations' instead of 'state of thought' in the draft of his Congress speech in 1807. Then PR started to transform into a modern essential and prestigious profession as well as creative and skilful discipline. After the World War II, PR emerged as a full-time profession in many parts of the globe.

The British government in India constituted the Central Publicity Board during the early 1940s for carrying out public relations work. Organisations already having PR programmes by that time were the Tata Iron and Steel in the private sector and the Indian Railway, in public sector. The first one had it to satisfy the workers and the objective of the latter to introduce PR was to conduct sales promotion campaign. The Central Publicity Board of the government of India was renamed as the Central Board of Information in 1921 and as the Directorate of Public Instruction in 1923. In 1931, it became the Directorate of Information and Broadcasting. During the World War II, the organisation launched nationwide public relations programmes to create public opinion in favour of the British monarchy. The British government also created the War Purposes Exhibition Unit and the Central Bureau of Public Information and made information films on India. After the Partition of India in 1947, the government of Pakistan consolidated its effort to gear up PR programmes through radio, field publicity, film division and press information offices under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Later, the government constituted the Central Information Service (CIS) under the framework of the central superior services and staffed it by cadre officers and professional PR-men to run the PR jobs in the ministries and organisations under the central government.

The Bangladesh Civil Service (Information) Cadre was created with the members of Pakistani CIS officers and those who were working in the departments under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Fresh Information cadre officials are being recruited regularly through combined civil service examinations. After a three-month long professional course, they are given the PR responsibilities in government organisations while the sector corporations and private organisations appoint professional PR practitioners. Among the government organisations, the East Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority was the first to set up a separate PR directorate in 1958. At present, more than three hundred semi-government, autonomous and private organisations and almost all government organisations in Bangladesh have PR setups.

The PR professionals worldwide organized themselves and launched their own platform, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) in 1955 and formulated a Code of Conduct in 1961. The code of ethics for public relations was formulated by the IPRA in its general meeting in Athens in May 1965. The Code of Athens was updated and amended in the IPRA council meeting in Tehran in 1968 and was later adopted by most national PR associations of the world. The Bangladesh Public Relations Association (BPRA), formed in 1979, adopted it in its first national convention in the same year.

In its early years after independence, the government of Bangladesh instructed the various departments and ministries to launch PR programmes through utilising the existing media and resource support. The different kinds of PR programmes in Bangladesh are designed keeping in view the socio-economic situation in the country. They communicate to the people the plans, programmes, activities and policies of the government and the successes and failures to ensure the support and participation in the governance. Different mass media and interpersonal communication facilities as well as traditional media are being used as tools for conducting PR programmes. Most people, even in the urban areas did not have adequate access to newspapers, periodicals, booklets and other printed matters.

According to some estimates, only 7% people of Bangladesh use these print media for public relations and on 26 July 2009, there were 246 media listed dailies, 128 weeklies and 61 other periodicals in Bangladesh with a total circulation of about 3.55 million. Bangladesh Betar (Radio) and Bangladesh Television (BTV), the two government controlled media, cover almost the whole area of Bangladesh. The programmes of BTV World and the External Service of Bangladesh Betar cover most of the parts of the globe. BTV has 2 broadcasting centres, one each in Dhaka and Chittagong, and fifteen other sub stations. The percentage of audience, however, far less than the broadcasting coverage. Bangladesh is one of the first countries in Asia to have established the television station in 1964. The number of TV viewers in the country was only about 10 million in the year 2000. It is being increased with the introduction of local private and foreign satellite cable TV stations. Over 12 private TV channels are operating from Dhaka alone airing Bangla news and programmes. Bangladesh Betar airs 244 hours of programmes including 67 news bulletins daily from its 12 stations and 6 units located in different regions of the country. This medium is being considered as the cheapest but the most effective tool of PR. By 2009, 4 commercial FM radio stations have started operation in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet metropolitan areas mainly with entertainment programmes and news. Steps are underway to expand these networks in view of the growing popularity of FM radios. A large number of community radio stations having limited transmission capacity are about to appear in the country's remote areas.

Instead of videos, digital technology is now gaining popularity in the PR programmes because these are easier, cheaper and faster to produce, and the country could quickly develop technical services for them. Introduction of private TV channels in Bangladesh and access to satellite channels created enhanced scope for many private agencies and NGOs to produce motivational and documentary programmes in video or digital format for PR. The internet and e-mail services also became essential tools of PR in the country. Internet was first introduced in Bangladesh in 1993 and many semi-government, autonomous and private organisations have their own websites. Blogs are also becoming popular for PR activities.

Film has long been a popular PR medium in Bangladesh. Film is an effective but costly medium for carrying out PR programmes for the illiterate people. The PR practitioners often take help of the Film Development Corporation and the Department of Films and Publications in Dhaka. Once a film is produced, it needs a certificate from the Film Censor Board. The government's film unit and the publication department were merged to create a special organisation of the name Department of Films and Publications, which produces newsreels and documentary films and publishes posters, booklets, books, magazines and other publications under the government's PR programmes. The organisation, which disseminates information about the policies and programmes of the government of Bangladesh through mass media, is the Press Information Department (PID). The PID keeps the government informed of public opinion. The central office of PID in Dhaka and its three regional offices in Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna issue news and newsphotos, features, articles on issues of public interest and reference items to the media. Its officers are attached with every ministry and division of the government. The PID central office gives accreditation cards to local and foreign newsmen working in Bangladesh.

One of the important PR channels in Bangladesh is the Department of Mass Communication (DMC) formed in 1972 through taking over the Department of Field Publicity, the Pakistan Council, the Bureau of National Reconstruction and the Women Development Wing, created by the government of Pakistan. The DMC has sixty-eight field offices, one each in every district and in selected upazilas. DMC has a number of mobile units equipped with vans, cinema and video projectors and generators to operate in rural areas. These units organise film shows, meetings, seminars, traditional song and drama performances, etc to mobilise public opinion on various issues. The DMC exhibits films and other publications produced by the Department of Films and Publications.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an External Publicity Wing to project image of the country abroad and to promote understanding and support to the foreign policy of Bangladesh. The PR programmes of the Wing conducted abroad highlights the country's success and potentialities using materials developed by agencies under the Ministry of Information as well as by private institutions.

In December 1982, the Ministry of Information formulated some guidelines for PR set-ups of corporations, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies and agencies and had circulated these to all ministries and divisions to improve existing PR set-ups and the professional efficiency of the PR people. The guidelines suggested that public relations should be recognised as a specialised profession and the recruitment of PR personnel should be made from among those candidates, who have the requisite standard, correct aptitude for the job and preferably, an educational background and/or experience in communication and/or journalism. According to the guidelines, public relations should be considered an integral part of management and be associated at all stages with the process for policy formulation of the organisation.

In the early years after independence, it was not very easy to get trained PR professionals in Bangladesh. The University of Dhaka first introduced PR education in 1962 as a part of postgraduate diploma in Journalism. By introducing MA course in Journalism in the late 1960s and BA (Hons) degree in Mass Communication and Journalism in 1977, the university played a vital role in providing education and training of PR professionals in the country. At present, the University of Chittagong, the University of Rajshahi, some other private universities including the Independent University are offering degrees in Mass Communication and Journalism. The lone government institution for providing training in PR is the National Institute of Mass Communication established in 1980. The Institute provides training to the information cadre officials and producer-technicians of Radio and TV, also extends training for PR practitioners. The Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB), an autonomous body, established in mid-1970s introduced a post-graduate diploma course in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2000. The course includes modules on Public Relations. PIB also offers short courses on PR for the professionals.

Despite a significant growth in numbers of PR personnel in government organisations and various private establishments, professionalism in PR is still lacking in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Public Relations Association (BPRA) admits that its members have not yet achieved desired standard in accordance with the guidelines formulated by the government of Bangladesh and the code of ethics. The reasons, according to BPRA members, are the absence of a national PR policy, inadequate training facilities for PR professionals and a casual attitude of the management to the PR unit. The PR practitioners are not always allowed to participate in the process of decision-making in many organisations and too often, there exists a gap between the public image of the organisation and its real position. [Mahbubul Alam]