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Oxygen theory of information

Oxygen theory of information
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If India has emerged as world’s largest democracy and also as a global economic player poised to become the third biggest economy in the World, and it it is now a polio-free country, experts say that due credit must be given to communication and information sphere for bringing about a change in the outlook of people towards development. 

If India has emerged as world’s largest democracy and also as a global economic player poised to become the third biggest economy in the World, and it it is now a polio-free country, experts say that due credit must be given to communication and information sphere for bringing about a change in the outlook of people towards development.

Explaining the role of information in a democratic and developing society, a renowned communication expert and former Director General, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, Y V L Rao opines that, “the amount of information available and the wideness of its distribution is thus a key factor in the speed and smoothness of development.” Dr P C Joshi, an Indian economist, argues: “If economic poverty is bad for a nation, information poverty is worse.” Information is wealth and power for change management. As such communication and information are described as eyes and ears of a developing society.

A US Communication Theorist Wilbur Schramm defines communication as “sharing of information, knowledge, abilities and efforts towards achieving a happy life, happy organization, happy country and establishing a more happy relations with the people around organsiation/world.

Communication and information, academically are not similar concepts. Communication is a process of creating human relationship, while information on the other hand is made up of messages, verbal and non-verbal which act as inputs to bring out a communication relationship.” An Argentinian scholar Ricardo C Noseda, distinguishes between communication and information thus: “Communication is not an act but a process by which an individual enters into mental cooperation with another individual, until they come to constitute a common conscience.

Information, instead, is just a unitaleral translation of message from emitter to a receiver.” However to be effective, communication and information must be two-way process, not only sending but also receiving information. If they tend to be one way, it will have a disastrous effect. Let us examine how communication and information are operated in our country.

President Ramnath Kovind in his address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day called for “a greater partnership between citizens and the government to create a New India by which the benefits of government policies reach all sections of the society.” In a similar tone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address not only sketched the concept of New India but also appealed to the people to dedicate themselves to a clean India, free of poverty, casteism and corruption.

Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu, at a civic reception in Hyderabad, urged all the representatives of the people to introspect and ask why the country ws not prospering even after 70 years of and what needed to be done. In our communication vocabulary, all the aforementioned statements are the masterpieces of rhetoric and disseminating one-way information.

Without ascertaining the reactions of the people towards such policy statements, their implementation will not only be very difficult but also a futile exercise in rhetoric. What is needed today is a two-way continuous flow of information from the organisation to the stakeholders and vice versa.

Against this background, the Oxygen Theory of Information is evolved for practice. The Right to Information (RTI) Act has been described as the Oxygen of Indian democracy. Oxygen is a chemical gas that is found in the air and water which is necessary for humans, animals and plants to live.

The Oxygen Theory of Information describes the relationship between the use of oxygen by human beings and organisations in the form of two-way flow of information. Without oxygen, humans cannot live; similarly without information organisations cannot survive. If you breathe oxygen well, you live long.

If an organisation regulates information properly, it will survive long with a better image. When we breathe in, we inhale pure air and when we breathe out, we not only exhale impure air but also toxins within our body are released through our lungs. The same process of inhale and exhale can be applied to organisations in relation to the flow of information.

As and when organisations disseminate information to the stakeholders, it amounts to exhale of information and when information is obtained from stakeholders as feedback information, it is regarded as inhale of information. Unfortunately, most of the organisations today indulge in ‘exhale’ of information to reach out to the stakeholders, but they totally ignore ‘inhale’ of information from the stakeholders to get reaction or feedback information from stakeholders.

In fact, as humans get pure air when they inhale, organisations too get the reality picture or real situation of the organisation in the eyes of stakeholders when they ‘inhale’ information. As humans die if breath is stopped, organisations also perish or disappear from the society if they don’t inhale or exhale information.

In fact, two types of information emerge in any organisation as positive and negative information. Positive information of public interest should be put out or exhaled for public consumption. However, negative information that an organisation gets by inhaling should be analysed internally as also the causes of such information, and then the organisation must set right the same into positive by appropriate action projects. Therefore, organisations should give equal importance to both inhale and exhale of information.

An example of not getting feedback information or not inhaling information can be taken from the Soviet Union. Why the mighty Soviet Union led by the Communist Party was dissolved in 1991. According to former Chief Minister of West Bengal and veteran communist leader late Jyothi Basu, “Soviet Union was dissolved because that government only exhaled information about its policies but totally ignored inhaling information of getting feedback to know the pulse of the public towards its government”.

A shining example of inhaling information can be taken from our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He invited the people to send suggestions about topics to be included in his Independence Day address. Suggestions have poured in at both NAMO App and his personal App and MyGovt.in, the Government of India’s e-governance portal.

As many as 6000 comments in the NAMO App and 2216 in MyGovt.in were registered. The top tending topics, among suggestions, include: education quality, clean India, digitisation to end corruption, beti bachao, beti padhao, ban on cigarettes, bar on big feasts during marriages and deaths rituals, setting up of a national employment projection portal to build the right skills and curriculum for jobs.

This Oxygen Theory of Communication may be practiced by all public relations and communication professionals in the best interests of their organisations for long survival. (Writer is former Director, I&PR Department, AP)

By Dr CV Narasimha Reddi

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