Is it time to give lobbying an industry status? Is registration of lobbyists a solution for them to be recognised? Why do NGOs escape the ‘lobbying’ tag despite having taken almost similar approach to influence government decisions? The recent case of the Radia tapes put lobbying in the limelight, and in an unflattering way. Even before the leaked tapes made headlines, lobbying has long been struggling to shrug off the negative tag.
Putting things in perspective, Shivnath Thukral, Group President, Corporate Branding and Strategic Initiatives, Essar, pointed out that the PR industry and lobbying were often mistaken as one, thereby giving rise to mixed opinions. He said, “PR and lobbying are two different categories all together. Indians are not transparent and that is why we are not able to understand that one can influence decisions by proper information and facts.”
Sharing his opinion on NGOs in India, Dr Steven King, Director, APCO Worldwide, said, “Lobbying has and is being damaged in India. A lot of NGOs in India do the same work as lobbyists do. These NGOs exist and have special teams who handle this particular task and they reach out to the government.”
Vivek Sengupta, Chief Executive, Moving Finger Communications, felt that there was an unnecessary hype around lobbying and that it was not as bad as was perceived. He noted, “Lobbying is used abroad too. It is all about getting in touch with lawmakers, and in India, and we understand the gamut of activities as ‘influential’. Policymakers require inputs while making laws and corporate communicators only provide the information, but there is nationwide ruckus on it.”
According to Pranjal Sharma, Executive Editor, Bloomberg UTV, “The so-called industry doesn’t even know what it is doing, there is no sense of what is right and wrong, incorrect and correct practices.”
Commenting on various government bodies, Thukral said, “CII and FICCI are now exhibition organisations. When was the last time they released a white paper that was of any use to us?”
Sengupta, too, felt that a body like the Press Council of India was “a toothless watch dog”.
One question that rose out of the debate was whether registration of lobbyists could be a solution and would it make a difference.
Thukral opined, “Everybody thinks it is difficult to have access to the government, but I think registration is not the solution. The moment you make it more accessible to the common man, then you can talk about accessibility. If you live in Mumbai, you don’t even have access to the BMC head. Interest groups vary and they will not come together. What will help is – at least one agency would have to start this process. Lobbying should be targeted towards legislation and there should be debate once a month. The moment this is done, it will surely generate interest and will let people come out in the open.”
Agreeing with Thukral’s statement, Moving Finger Communications’ Sengupta said, “The initiative should not come from government; it should come from the agencies.”
Continuing with his idea to resolve the issue of lobbying being perceived as a negative activity, Thukral said, “There is much more clarity. I am optimistic about it and what we are seeking is very basic. Let the politician openly allow a public discussion on various issues to make the process more effective.”
Supporting Thukral’s opinion, Bloomberg UTV’s Sharma added, “Let the official communication happen from election process so that there is a connection right from the grass root level. There need to set standards to be followed in the effort towards restoring the image of lobbying.”
The industry experts were sharing their views during a panel discussion on ‘Is it time to give lobbying an industry status?’ at the second exchange4media India PR and Corporate Communications Conference, which was held in Delhi on March 16, 2011. Bloomberg UTV’s Pranjal Sharma moderated the session.
The Conference was presented by Adfactors Public Relations. CVB News Service was the co-sponsor. Eikona was the measurement partner, while ISB&M School of Communication was the academic partner. Insights were provided by Penn Schoen Berland.