Caught offering to publish scripted political interview as ‘news' for Rs. 86,400

“First we'll do one interview on TV on HCN [Herald Cable Network] and after that episode next week, we can carry the same kind of write-up [in the Herald] … how it appeared today, no ... for the HCN thing you have to make a payment of 50,000 [rupees] … and this particular size for Herald, it will be 86,400 rupees … Only you will have to prepare from your side which kind of questions you will like to answer comfortably …”

Paid news is no stranger to Goa, only this time it's drawing unfriendly attention. Those are excerpts from recorded conversations between Tulshidas Desai, marketing manager of OHeraldO (the Herald) and Goa-based journalist Mayabhushan Nagvenkar.

The journalist was pulling off a sting posing as Bernard Costa, a would-be candidate in the State's Assembly polls to be held early next year.

Sales pitch

The Herald's marketing manager is making a sales pitch when the journalist calls up and asks how much it would cost to have an interview of himself dressed up as news. The Herald claims to be Goa's largest-circulated English daily.

“Ya, but can you send me a quotation?” the journalist posing as a candidate asks Mr. Desai. “A rough quotation [of what it costs]?” Mr. Desai knows an ethical line is being crossed and is wary of leaving a trail. “This is like an editorial kind of thing, no,” he says. “I can't mention on the paper, you know … .”

Money for interview

In the conversations, the marketing manager appears to confirm that Raymond D'Sa [an aspiring candidate from Cortalim in south Goa] paid Rs. 2 lakh to get his ‘interview' carried in the Herald of October 20, the morning of the conversation.

Mr. Nagvenkar: “So Raymond's interview was [for] two lakh [rupees].” Desai: “Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya …” But “you are not going to say advertorial, [above the interview], no? asks the journalist. No, Mr. Desai [who first mentioned ‘advertorial'] reassures him. It would be just like Raymond D'Sa's interview. “Today how nothing is mentioned no? Like that only … .” However, Mr. D'Sa, when contacted by The Hindu, flatly denied having made any payment for the interview.

Since these audio recordings went public, all hell has broken loose. Except in Goa's media, which remains stoically silent on a scandal which broke just after the Election Commission of India handed out the first-ever verdict in Indian electoral history disqualifying a sitting legislator for improper accounts and indulging in “paid news.”

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