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Updated: January 30, 2013 11:50 IST

‘Yes, we spent money on paid news ads’

P. Sainath
Comment (29)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Confessions by politicians to EC belie claims of innocence by top newspapers

The political class is more honest than the media when it comes to ‘paid news’ during elections, judging by the fact that several poll candidates have owned up to this corrupt practice. At least, after the Election Commission and the Press Council of India shot off notices to them and held inquiries into the matter. They have acknowledged guilt by belatedly adding their “news” buying expenses to their election statement of accounts. Some candidates have accepted in writing that they bought what are now called, somewhat oxymoronically, “Paid News Advertisements.” But not a single one of the newspapers they say they gave their money to has accepted any wrongdoing. These are not just any papers. In readership terms, they include three top-ranked dailies.

In some cases, the battles are still on, involving both the politicians and newspapers concerned. On January 15, the EC found that Madhya Pradesh Cabinet Minister Narottam Mishra “failed to lodge his accounts of his election expenses in the manner prescribed by law.” He faces possible disqualification. The EC’s notice to Dr. Mishra concerns 42 news items on him during the November 2008 state elections. These, it pointed out, “read more like election advertisement(s) in favour of you alone rather than (as) news reports.” The EC names four newspapers in its notice: Dainik Bhaskar, Nai Duniya, Aacharan and Dainik Datia Prakash. Dainik Bhaskar is the second most-read daily in the country.

Less than a month earlier, the Press Council of India held quite a few dailies guilty of doing much the same thing during the 2010 Bihar assembly polls. These include Dainik Jagran, the newspaper with the highest readership in the country. The others are Dainik Hindustan, Hindustan Times, Dainik Aaj and Purvanchal Ki Raahi. Also, Rashtriya Sahara, Udyog Vyapar Times and Prabhat Khabhar.

In many cases, the route to exposure followed the pattern set in the classic case of the former Congress Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan. His 2009 poll campaign for the State legislature drew scores of full pages of “news.” Not a single one of those pages ever mentioned the name of Madhav Kinhalkar, his rival for the Bhokar seat. In a 2009-10 investigation into paid news, The Hindu found a hagiographical article on Mr. Chavan appear word for word in three major rival publications. In two of them, on the same day, in all of them under different by-lines (The Hindu, Nov. 30, 2009).

The 2010 Bihar polls saw a similar pattern. This time, though, one paper came up with a truly novel defence. Same story in different papers? That’s not paid news, argues Udyog Vyapar Times. It submits that other newspapers “hack their computer site and publish the same news.” So what might look like paid news, contends Udyog Vyapar Times, is merely the outcome of desperate rivals hacking into the internal network of this Aligarh-based daily to steal their national exclusives.

How did the candidates issued ‘Paid News’ notices for the Bihar polls by the EC react? All but one seem to have accepted their guilt. According to the EC, they did so by simply adding “the expenditure included by them on account of these ‘news’ in their accounts of election expenses.” In fact, the District Election Officer of Muzaffarpur in Bihar stated flatly that the dailies had carried “news for payment.” He even had letters from the candidates owning up to buying “news.”

The Press Council of India, acting on the matter referred to it by the EC, issued show cause notices to Dainik Jagran, Dainik Hindustan, Hindustan Times et al, between July and September 2011. On December 21, 2012, the PCI, on the basis of its own inquiry committee’s report, got tough. Of the high-profile line-up, only Prabhat Khabhar escaped “the highest penalty” of the Press Council — censure — under Section 14 (1) of the Press Council Act of 1978. This was the only case where the paper and the candidate both firmly denied the charge. (In all the other cases, the candidates accepted they had purchased “news”.) And Prabhat Khabar’s own record — it has strongly campaigned against paid news — added weight to its defence. The paper offered to apologise if the EC produced proof of any such aberration. It was “cautioned for the future.”

All the other dailies denied the charges, too. But, as the PCI’s inquiry committee puts it, “in all these cases, the candidate in question admitted before the Election Commission of India that he paid for the impugned material.” These dailies were found “guilty of having carried news reports that were in fact self-promotion material provided by the candidate in the fray,” and so faced the highest penalty of censure.

So quite a few politicians seem willing to confess to their paid news sins. They face penalties, too. Just 16 months ago, the EC disqualified Umlesh Yadav, then sitting MLA from Bisauli in Uttar Pradesh, for a period of three years for failing to provide a “true and correct account” of her election expenses. She had skipped any mention of her spending on advertisements dressed up as news during her 2007 poll campaign. She was the first legislator ever to bite the dust on grounds of excessive expenditure (and paid news). Dr. Mishra, Health Minister in the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh, now faces charges of the kind that got her disqualified.

Ashok Chavan case

Oddly enough, the Ashok Chavan case, which triggered off a spate of such cases, is itself bogged down in both the EC and the Supreme Court. The case of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is likewise held up in the courts. Judicial delays could have a serious and possibly adverse impact in the fight against Paid News in the 2014 general election.

But what action do habitual offenders in the media face? The Paid News Committee constituted by the Election Commission has concluded that those 42 “news items” involving Dr. Mishra “appear to be advertisements in the garb of news” and fall “within the definition of ‘Paid News’.” The Press Council defines Paid News as “any news or analysis appearing in any media (print or electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.” A Press Council team appointed by PCI Chairperson Justice Katju found last month that Paid News had been rampant in Gujarat during the State polls there in December 2012.

So what happens where media outlets concerned are found guilty? Where the “highest penalty” is censure and that draws not even an apology? Of course, Paid News is not only about elections, though that’s where it does greatest damage to the greatest number. It is an everyday activity in much of the media. The cloying coverage that powerful corporations get routinely reeks of it. You can see it in some completely corporate “sporting” events or “partnerships.” Governments, too, buy “news” sometimes. You can see it at work in Davos, too. Who funds journalists and channels from India at that World Economic Forum event each year is worth looking at. But that’s another story. Watch this space.

psainath@mtnl.net.in

Are movie and book reviews in the media paid for too? They most
certainly do not carry the tag of advertisements and the number of
people who take these reviews seriously is not small. Is there a
possibility that genuinely original movies and books may occasionally
(not always) lose out because the producer or the author does not have
(or does not want to)enough money to pay?

from:  Manashi Misra
Posted on: Jan 31, 2013 at 21:40 IST

The paid news is old story. I am surprised at the number of posts
congratulating the author. How about news papers and journalists
rewarded through prestigious (only in India) awards for mostly writing
anti-national stories and doing the drain inspectors work foreign
countries? I hope Mr. Sainath will write about that in a future
article.
It is understandable (to some extent) that politicians are corrupt
because a whole lot of them are criminals to start with. But the
corruption of the "intellectuals" of the media is absolutely
inexcusable. They deserve the highest punishment, but they get away
with censure (which nobody ever hears about for obvious reasons).

from:  srini
Posted on: Jan 31, 2013 at 05:27 IST

The profuse-profane confessions of the usual casualty of the blame
game,the political class,have neatly stripped the Messianic garbs of
the red herring hagiographers,wordsmiths and tautologists.
Disturbingly,this point towards a graph of miserably plummeting
journalistic integrity.As Sainath precisely points out,the foul play
is amplified when one takes into account the colossal damage
involved("Ofcourse,Paid News is not only about elections,though thats
where it does greatest damage to the greatest number").Offspring of
the incestous hypercommercialisation,Paid News alias Paid News
Advertisements,grievously demeans and derails the right of the voting
population to make an informed decision,which inturn pulverise the
cardinal democratic processes like elections.The punitive dimension of
Paid News calls for serious amendments.The corruptive nature of the
issue being immense,the penalty requires a quantum jump from mere
delayed censures.A commendable journalistic piece of integrity!

from:  Sherin
Posted on: Jan 30, 2013 at 17:46 IST

Surprising, given the fact that 24 hours english media on TV has not
been included. They are the biggest culprit.
We had one big name TV news media caught on audio tape, taking about
giving central portfolio to a politician from Tamil Nadu. The entire
episode was swept under the carpet. She still goes out and raises issues
, moderating debates on TV as if she is the neutral voice.
This is just a gimmick. They dont want to do anything.

from:  vinny
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 23:16 IST

What about paid journalists or bought-over journalists? The telecom scandal-linked Nira-Radia tapes borought to the open how stories were planted through great journalists? Thanks to Tehelka,this was exposed. What about a follow-up story ? And what action the concerned media managements and Press Council have taken against these journalists?

from:  Nathan V
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 17:23 IST

Some times "Paid News" can be paid news by omission. While reading this
article, I was reminded of the strident belief in the blogging community
that the Hindu, restrained itself from publishing articles against IIPM
because it was one of its major advertisers. Despite my love for this
paper, I could never refute that charge.

from:  Nirmal
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 16:22 IST

Paid news is just one of the things, there are other things also - Paid freedom of expression op-eds, paid editorials, paid intellectualism, paid activism, paid socio-economic reform movements, paid literary festivals.
Pls. note - paid does not necessarily mean money changing hands.

Now the challenge for each individual is to differentiate real things from fakes, but I think its easy.

Praveen Nair

from:  Praveen Nair
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 14:01 IST

It's not just the judiciary's job to stop corrupt practices as one of
the readers has pointed out. It's OUR job as so called intellectuals
who preach morals to the world around us. It's OUR job as citizens to
be the watchdogs of law, not just the job of legal systems and
bureaucrats alone. There're so many illegal events that we're aware of
everyday, but how many of us actually take the time to bring it to the
attention of media (such as The Hindu) that has the capacity to
scrutinize and bring it to the attention of a larger mass? Agreed,
we're all busy with our daily lives, but then we can't be simply wash
off our responsibility and pass the buck. So let's get on with it and
hold the officials responsible by bringing to attention. One such way
is to have community newspapers. They can be used to bring to
attention many good events happening around our communities and also
highlight the negative events. Such community actions pave way to a
stronger democracy.

from:  sriram
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 13:29 IST

While thanking and congratulating "The Hindu" for bringing to light the nexus between politicians and the print media with specific instances of the wrongdoing, I wish and pray for "The Hindu" to remain untouched by such immoral practice ever.

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 13:29 IST

Whether it is the political class, bureaucracy, judiciary or the media, they are all made
up of the same people. Corruption and Honesty are as much found in the media as
elsewhere. But,corruption in the media has an added devastating effect of misleading
the people with planted news to aid and abet usually the ruling party to retain power.
The electronic media is as much involved in this racket as the print media. Actually,
more than the media, it is the government to be blamed for aiding and abetting in
this racket.

from:  KS Raghunathan
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 12:39 IST

The issue of could be solved if Press Council of India is given
statutory powers to take action against it. I am not in favour of
regulating media but some accountability has to be fixed in order to
check the evil of Paid news. I appreciate the efforts of The Hindu to
raise this matter which is in the best possible way avoided by the
media.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 12:12 IST

I feel that all depend on Indian judiciary system. The day when our
judiciary system becomes strict, equal and fast, all the problems which
India is facing will be vanished.

from:  Richa Agarwal
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:45 IST

And that is why I trust The Hindu.

from:  Sangram Gupta
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:43 IST

this is an exceptional work by The Hindu and Sri. Sainath. Mere
censuring of the daily concerned wont do. A front page apology as
prescribed by the election commission should be the punishment. The
names of the media houses involve should be published on EC website and
through government ads. Paid contents in the visual media also should be
monitored (though it would be daunting task).

from:  Jijeesh PB
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:38 IST

Hear Hear Hear!! More of this. Please do let us know who sponsors the journalists at Davos

from:  jramhyd
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:17 IST

When many newspapers have PR wings which promise a certain minimum
coverage if you hire their services, what's stopping the political
parties to hire their (PR) services? Which in turn translate into 'paid
news' in the newspapers? The only difference here is in the monies
involved vis-a-vis that of a grooming salon or fashion designer - a
quantum increase, in this case. Great job The Hindu for not whacking off
the conscience supposed to be a press collective.

from:  Thommen Jose
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:07 IST

Highest penalty of CENSURE? Ridiculous to say the least. Censure is in
the category of minor penalty for government servants in disciplinary
proceedings instituted against them. Since it has become public, this
will also become a regular source of income to the "severely and highly
CENSURED" newspapers.

from:  Deepak
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 11:03 IST

I am glad to see that "Hindu" taking initiative to expose the ill work ethics of many leading news papers in the country and we all are well aware of the phenomenon called Paid News. Paid news is not just a corruption case but a mass corruption criminal offense. My sincere request to Mr. Katju would be to ban all these News papers till they come clean on these charges. We must realize that this is just tip of the iceberg, There are many more electronic media houses involved in malpractices.

from:  saurabh
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 10:55 IST

I appreciate the initiative of The Hindu to raise the ever avoided issue
of 'Paid News' by the media. There are thousand of newspapers and
magazines that are published in India and it is very difficult for all
of them to survive in this environment of fierce competition. I think
neither media world nor political will ever be willing to take
initiative against the evil called 'Paid News'. I hope The Hindu will
continue its good work in this direction.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 10:52 IST

this is a new and welcome development. in a country where un educated out number educated, informed voters are less and educated mass voters are more. the nexus between media and popularity is known to the west and hence they go by their conscience than media hype. slowly we have to judge people by past actions than poll promises which is the proof for Modi's victory in Gujarat. what credentials Laloo has what credentials Nitish Kumar has in fullfilling poll promsies is seen in the results. now Indian pulbic have to graduate from the herd mentality to resposnible citizens. this si sright time to change constitution to direct voting like in US where we elect PM than MPs elect PM. this will ensure accountability to people than allegence to coalation parties. a federal sytme and call-back clause for MPS will ensure fair election and fair rling. lett opposition and ruling parites stop cheating pulbic and start workign fro people which will eradicate corruption more esily than Loka ayukta

from:  rajasekhar polapragada
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 10:42 IST

It simply highlights the fact, "Sab Kuch Bikta hai (Everything is up
for sale)".

from:  Rajeev
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 09:49 IST

Truly an eye opening news and confirmed my doubts on some of the dailies
i used to read.

from:  Stanley
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 09:14 IST

It's imperative to fix ethical accountability on the press!

from:  lalit
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 06:45 IST

Going by the way these paid news are published, it is very easy to understand it as, people are well aware of the tactics of all our political parties.But, invariably it does not work as it is not like paid publicity by certain individuals in the celluloid industry.

from:  V.Sivasubramaniam
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 06:42 IST

The west bengal election in 2011 is a classic example how systematic propaganda can succeed in bringing a devastating PARIVARTAN in elections!

from:  atis
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 06:26 IST

Congrats to the author for the thought-provoking article. For four
decades now, the Dravida parties in TN have been buying votes in
exchange of numerous freebies and goodies, paid out of taxpayers' money.
This is a FAR MORE serious abuse than paid stories. Even the Election
Commission does not talk about it. Maybe the author can investigate into
that abuse.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 04:15 IST

Dainik Bhaskar is a newspaper allegedly promoted by people having close
business relations with many BJP politicians. In Chhattisgarh the
newspaper group has other business ventures as well and it faces a
strong allegations for promoting the Raman Singh government through its
stories. In fact most of the BJP state governments has a huge PR budget
which they use to buy space in the media (majorly print and local TV).
These governments (specially Gujrat) have mastered the art of using
media as a marketing ploy to lure voters. The alarming thing is these
issues are only coming up after Election Commissions intervention and
election commission can only intervene when model code of conduct is
enforced in the state which usually few days before the election. For
rest of the period the media doesn't directly come under any regulation
which can stop these "paid news" except self regulation. So one can be
booked for updating something in facebook but not writing the same in a
newspaper.

from:  Sahil
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 03:33 IST

Kudos to P Sainath for exposing one of the most abominable scandals of
the so-called democratic elections and media. Indeed, it is a
pervasive phenomenon of the charade called democracy and the role
elections. Sainath is spot on when he mentions about Davos and the
paid trips for the media to air the views of corrupt politicians who
represent India. This writer is a physical witness to the World
Economic Forum's Davos meeting last week. Most of the media
representatives are financed by the Indian state to cover events
involving Kamal Nath, Praful Patel, and Anand Sharma. In addition,
they also cover events involving Mukesh Ambani, Kotak Mahindra and so
on. Most of these paid trips conceal the corrupt money-making deals
struck in Davos hotels. Indeed, it is all for a price for which either
these private robber-capitalists or their political cronies pay to
spruce up their image in the Indian media. Sainath deserves credit for
exposing these insidious crimes of the media.

from:  Immanuel Achrya
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 03:23 IST

P. Sainath is a Legend.

from:  Ashu
Posted on: Jan 29, 2013 at 03:06 IST
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