Govt plans to revise Advertisements to media houses policy

R Dutta Choudhury
 GUWAHATI, Feb 13 – All is not well in the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) of the Government of Assam as some serious lapses in releasing the payments to media houses against publication and broadcast of government advertisements have come to light. There have been instances where payments were held up for long time, while, payments were even made to newspapers, which are hardly seen in the market. However, the Government is now planning to revise the policy of issuing advertisements and the process is likely to start soon.It may be mentioned here that one former Director of the DIPR was arrested on charges of irregularities committed while launching a publicity campaign just before the last assembly polls and further investigations into the case are still on. But a thorough probe into the entire process of issuing advertisements and making payments to the media houses over the years may unearth major irregularities.

A glance at the payments made to the media houses last year make interesting reading as some of the papers, to whom payments were made, are hardly in circulation and there have also been instances of making payments to newspapers, which were closed down. At present, the situation is such that even the DIPR is not aware of the pending dues and has asked the media houses to furnish the details so that the backlog can be cleared.

Moreover, the list of the newspapers, to whom advertisements were issued for publication is also interesting as apparently some newspapers quoted exorbitant figures of circulation. Though the figures quoted by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) is considered to be the most authentic figures of newspaper circulations in the country, the State Government does not insist on it, which enabled some newspaper houses to submit exorbitant circulation figures. Majority of the newspaper houses submitted circulation figures certified by Chartered Accountants and interestingly, the Government, more particularly the DIPR, does not have any mechanism to verify the actual circulation figure of the newspapers published from the State.

The media houses are also facing problems as some Government departments and undertakings issue advertisements directly without routing it through the DIPR. Later it becomes difficult for the media houses to get the payments, as a result of which huge backlog of payments are pending. Even Government departments like the PWD and offices of the Deputy Commissioners failed to clear the payments on time. There is need for a centralized payment policy by the Government and the DIPR needs to be entrusted with the responsibility of doing it to avoid such problems. Moreover, substantial number of bills are pending for years as those are yet to be endorsed by DIPR.

Another major issue that the media houses are facing is that despite assurance by the Government, the rates of advertisements have not been enhanced periodically. The last rate revision was made way back in April 1, 2014.

When asked to comment on the irregularities, RP Baruah, who took over charge as the Director of Information and Public Relations in November after the arrest of his predecessor Ranjit Gogoi, admitted that some irregularities came to his notice and revealed that the Government is planning to review its advertisement policy shortly. He assured that whenever making of payments to non existent newspapers is brought to his notice, he would immediately enquire into it and action would be taken against guilty persons if the allegations are found to be true. He said that payments to some newspapers have already been blocked and he has asked all the media houses to submit the “returns in prescribed forms” regularly. Some newspapers have started submitting such returns and those who fail to do so would not get any payment, he assured.

Baruah admitted that the DIPR is still not aware of the pending dues. He said that immediately after taking over charge of the Department, he had convened a meeting of the Advertisement Managers of all the media houses and requested them to submit their pending bills as soon as possible. “In the meeting, I came to know that the media houses failed to submit the detail bills as release orders were not issued to the media houses along with the advertisements sent for publication. Issuing release orders is a must, without which it is impossible to keep track of the advertisements issued. I immediately directed the officials of the departments to issue the pending release orders so that the newspapers can submit their detailed bills. Now most of the pending release orders have been issued and after getting to know the exact amount due to the media houses, we can approach the Government for necessary funds to clear the dues,” he added.

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