Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Newspaper columns for sale

'Attention election candidates!

"Four News items of your choice and your profile costs only between Rs 5 to 20 lakh depending on the page of our newspaper.
If you are rich enough we will publish for you a special supplement about your achievements for only Rs 1.5 crore."

These rates are not for advertisements.These were the rates for sale of newspaper columns to affordable candidates in the recently held Maharashtra Assembly elections.

See what the noted Magsaysay award winning journalist P.Sainath wrote:

"In the financial orgy that marked the Maharashtra elections, the media were never far behind the moneybags. Not all sections of the media were in this mode, but quite a few. Not just small local outlets, but powerful newspapers and television channels, too. Many candidates complained of “extortion” but were not willing to make an issue of it for fear of drawing media fire. Some senior journalists and editors found themselves profoundly embarrassed by their managements. “The media have been the biggest winners in these polls,” says one ruefully. “In this period alone,” says another, “they’ve more than bounced back from the blows of the ‘slowdown’ and done so in style.” Their poll-period take is estimated to be in hundreds of millions of rupees. Quite a bit of this did not come as direct advertising but in packaging a candidate’s propaganda as “news.”

The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explode across the State. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for almost any coverage at all. Issues didn’t come into it. No money, no news. This effectively shut out smaller parties and independent voices with low assets and resources. It also misled viewers and readers by denying them any mention of the real issues some of these smaller forces raised.
None of this, as some editors point out, is new. However, the scale is new and stunning. The brazenness of it (both ways) quite alarming. And the game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits.

Only, the falsehoods often disguised as “news” affect an exercise central to India’s electoral democracy. And are outrageously unfair to candidates with less or no money. They also amount to exerting undue influence on the electorate.

All of this goes hand in hand with the stunning rise of money power among candidates. More so among those who made it the last time and have amassed huge amounts of wealth since 2004. With the media and money power wrapped like two peas in a pod, this completely shuts out smaller, or less expensive, voices. It just prices the aam aadmi out of the polls. Never mind they are contested in his name."

Loksabha elections also saw this phenomenon of 'journalism for sale'. The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists [APUWJ] has, on the basis of a sample survey conducted in West Godavari district, estimated that newspapers across the State netted Rs. 350 crore to Rs. 400 crore through editorial coverage sold to candidates during the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
In a seminar organised by APUWJ on May 13,2009 all the speakers unanimously expressed concern over the role played by large section of media during the General Elections – 2009. They said:
"Not only did the media indulged in unprofessional, immoral and unethical practices but also cheated the readers. Pointing out that the practice of publishing of propaganda material of the contesting candidates or political parties as “news” in the news columns with dateline and credit line under the guise of packages, schemes and contracts and collecting money is an unethical practice. While it is legitimate business practice for the media houses to accept advertisements, it is improper to use the news space/time slots for pecuniary gain. We believe that such practices lower the credibility of the media.

In a democracy the media exercises the right of the people for freedom of expression. It is the voice of the people. It is to inform, to educate and rouse their conscience for betterment of democracy and common good. It is time for the media houses, professional journalists, political parties and regulatory bodies to self introspect on the perilous practices that have crept into the media in recent times and apply corrective measures to remedy the situation before it is too late."

The Press Council of India did appoint a 2 men commission to enquire into these complaints in June 2009,but this did not prevent the Maharashtra media outfits from selling their newspaper columns to the highest bidder in last month's elections.

What was the all powerful election commission doing? Almost nothing.
Let me conclude with the last paragraph of Sainath's article.

"Each time a giant poll exercise is gone through in this most complex of electoral democracies, we congratulate the Election Commission on a fine job. Rightly so, in most cases. For, many times, its interventions and activism have curbed rigging, booth capturing and ballot stuffing. On the money power front, though — and the media’s packaging of big money interests as “news” — it is hard to find a single significant instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These too, after all, are serious threats. More structured, much more insidious than crude ballot stuffing. Far more threatening to the basics of not just elections, but democracy itself."


  1. What can I say - newspapers have lost their credibility...

    P.Sainath was a guest lecturer when I was doing my mass comm...He rocks!

  2. Shocking. And the media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy.
    I checked the link on Wikipedia. I have to agree with Sraboney, P Sainath rocks!

  3. Sraboney,
    Everything is for sale for the highest bidder.
    Sainath is great.Good to know you could listen to his lectures

  4. IHM,
    Yes it is shocking. Where you aware of this living in Maharashtra? But good to see some ethical journalists themselves exposing this scam.
    Yes Sainath rocks. Read him when ever you can.

  5. And I thought it's only the quality of Indian News Channels that's going down the drain.

  6. Haresh, not only the quality but ethics also are going down the drain

  7. Charakan, this is the norm for various media and it is not a new thing, but in India it is taken to a new extreme! I mean, it is entirely without ethics. There was an article some time back in the Indian Express about how Economic Times is taking money from companies to give good news about their stocks etc and about other activities which can give a wrong impression to people about the companies. And as you know celebrities and the like are shown in the times of india with some product and it is all paid for but it appears like a news article.

  8. Nita,yes I knew this is happening,but this time in much wider and organsied scale in recent elections. With the economic reforms and Industrial growth in India ministerial posts have become more and more valuable in terms of money making ability. That's why the more rich people are contesting elections and they are becoming richer after each elections. So the amount they can spend is astronomical and the media groups cash in.

  9. http://www.blogbharti.com/shantanudutta/media/the-news-is-for-sale/

  10. Blogbharti and Blogadda both picked your post! Congratulations!

  11. This is shocking. I remember reading similar reports around the time of the general elections on how the papers will create coverage packages for you depending on how much you can spend!

    Such a farce our democracy has become!

  12. @the survivor, yes jounalism has certainly changed for the worse with time

  13. IHM, all the credit to Sainath and APUWJ.

  14. ameerkandesi, yes if things go on like this our democracy is in serious trouble

  15. Why doesn't this news shock me? Perhaps it is because we know where the so-called 4th Estate actually belong in our times. Propaganda and fabrication has been sold at whole sale in each and every type of media we see around. Social commitment is the last thing our newspapers and channels look for. And ethics? doctor saar, you must be joking... :)

    The youth has already lost their trust in what they hear, see and read in these channels and newspapers. This rust is slowly spreading and its easy money doc! who want to be the saint and get kicked out of the game.

    So I'm not shocked by this report, but definitely I'm sad to see the extent to which things have gone.

    PS: Congrats on the blogbahrati pick.. :)

  16. Scorpiogenius, thank you.
    Yes what you said is all true but I will like to remain optimistic.The fact that journalists themselves are bringing this out and discussing it means there may be some change for the better in near or distant future.

  17. I am not surprised, Charakan. For some time now, like everything else in this country, 'news' has been for sale. Our politicians take full advantage of our stupidity. Most of us are very quick to point to tabloids and the sensationalist news channels as representative of the decay in the media's standards, but it actually starts with the big guys and the 'respectable' names....the others follow.

    Quirky Indian


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