A recent study shows how local government and business interests park their money in local editions of newspapers

Local editions of several Hindi and other vernacular newspapers are being used by a nexus of publishers and advertisers to disguise corrupt practices, states the findings from a study conducted by Delhi based media think tank Media Studies Group (MSG).

“More local editions should have led to more accountability of public representatives and an exposure of scams but what has happened is just the opposite,” states the study done by Purnima Oraon and Vijay Pratap from MSG.

The study analysed 1,866 advertisements that appeared on August 15 this year in eight multi-edition newspapers in 15 states. Of these, 593 advertisements were from elected representatives, 191 from local politicians, 200 from government employees, 121 from different government departments, 92 from different organisations, and a huge chunk 860 from miscellaneous individuals from local contractors to influential individuals among several others.

Giving the example of a prominent Hindi daily and its Bareilly edition of August 15 this year, the study shows it has a total of 166 advertisements on four pages. Most of the advertisers (101) are elected representatives, 19 are from government officers, 12 from government offices, eight are from local politicians, five from local institutions, three are from well-off people and 18 advertisers are people belonging to other professions.

Interestingly, many of the advertisements published in the daily are also published in two of its rival dailies from the area. Most of the advertisements by village heads and secretaries are common to all three newspapers. The trend here is the same as it is in corporate advertising where also companies give the same advertisement to all the newspapers in order not to anger any of them.

The study found that most advertisers at the district level were those people or organisations that are usually at the receiving end of public anger. “Thanks to the advertisements by these people, corrupt are shown in positive light and their good image is created by the local media,” the study points out.

It also states that the reason why newspapers launch local editions is financial in nature and not related to coverage. “There is no clear definition of local edition of newspapers in India. Newspaper publishers have defined it according to their political and financial needs.” Some newspapers bring out different editions of a newspaper at the district level and in the city.

The growth of the newspaper industry with the single minded aim to grab advertisements has also led to “journalists becoming middle-men.” When newspapers started expanding their editions at the district level, they ignored facilities for their working journalists. Journalists were hired at minuscule wages (sometime less than the minimum wages) and sometimes they are kept on commission basis depending on the advertisements they bring.

The newspapers included in the survey were from 13 States including several editions of Hindi dailies, three editions of a Punjabi daily, two editions of a Telugu daily, two local editions of a Malayalam daily, and one edition each of Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Odiya, Assamese and Marathi dailies.

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