“There are people dying…if we care enough for the living…” These lyrics of that number ‘Heal The World’ reverberate whenever I see reports of crores spent on statues of deceased leaders, cutting across party lines. Are there not more meaningful ways of honouring their memory, perpetuating their legacy and recording their contribution to society? We can build libraries, hospitals, schools, institute scholarships, sponsor medical procedures, or devise welfare schemes to help the poor. There is never a dearth of ideas if the political will exists.
As I opened my door this morning and picked up the newspapers and milk sachets, two messages were too conspicuous to be missed. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s recent ‘Breakfast Scheme’ for over a lakh government school children contained a message of sagacity and compassion. The Aavin milk sachet symbolised what I view as ‘in-house branding’. It used its own captive customer base with its more than 25 lakh litres a day to plug the Chess Olympiad hosted by the State on each sachet. Clever messaging. But…read on.
Why can’t we use the same milk sachets to carry Public Service Announcements like the need to wear masks and follow covid appropriate behaviour as we battle one wave after another? And with the threat of more pandemics looming large? Instead of the banned but existing posters and hoardings, why can’t we have creative messaging in public spaces on the deleterious effects of plastic? On garbage segregation? On tobacco? On drugs? On alcohol? On combating depression? On how suicide is never a solution? On road safety? On disability? On cruelty to animals? On gender injustice?
All State governments in the country and even the Centre have Information & Public Relations Departments, right? Instead of party appointments, rope in experts – advertising professionals, visual communication college students retired journalists, artists. Don’t use them to plant stories, peddle gossip or kill news. Unleash this talent pool to embark on massive and focussed awareness drives through the year. Champion causes. Flag bias. Fight discrimination. Conserve natural resources.
Do a spot poll on how responsive most Ministers are on the social media. With honourable exceptions, they use it as One-Way Traffic. For self-promotion and not genuine interaction with ‘We The People’ they took an oath to serve. Or for publicity stunts. What else will explain a camera contingent in tow for ‘surprise’ visits at schools or government offices or hospitals? As a former national television journalist, I’ve seen how such dramas are staged with certain outfits making a dash to get ‘embedded’ in the farce. That is how you have steady video footage and crystal-clear audio of the so called ‘surprise’ interaction between a bigwig and the masses.
If elected representatives cannot respond to the grievances, suggestions or cries for help from ordinary citizens on interactive platforms, minus the ‘walls’ of the ubiquitous ‘PA’, how will they live up to that oath? Silence is eloquent. Truth be told, public memory is not just proverbially but actually short. Five years is an insured career plan with no accountability.
Away from chess boards and 64 squares on Napier Bridge, let’s not ride the high horse. Make the right move.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, an Arbitrator, Columnist, Author of 4 books and former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)