Newspapers only ‘on paper’ make a killing from govt. ads

‘Largesse’ for non-existent entities from DAVP

Updated - April 03, 2016 12:35 am IST

Published - May 28, 2015 01:18 am IST - NEW DELHI:

A screenshot of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity site. Many newspapers on the DAVP list exist only on paper.

A screenshot of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity site. Many newspapers on the DAVP list exist only on paper.

It was a casual enquiry, calling up publishers of some “newspapers” across the country. To the surprise of the officials who made the calls, they were found to be existing only on paper. In one instance, the dialled number connected to a laundry shop and in another, to a call centre.

Yet, with a claimed circulation of 25,000, these non-existent publications had the status of “small newspapers”, entitling them to a “government largesse” — advertisements. Unlike big newspapers which get corporate advertisements, small newspapers need the money from government advertisements to stay afloat.

Well-oiled machinery

The enquiry threatened to blow the lid off a well-oiled machinery of political patronage and bribe, involving the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).

In the days to come, the officers would discover a printing press in old Delhi which published 20 newspapers, bearing the same content.

As subsequent notes and documents with The Hindu show, the Union Rural Development Ministry, one of the two big advertisers along with the Finance Ministry, complained, but officials were told it was like taking on another Ministry. The DAVP comes under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Yet complaints dating back to August 2007 till August 2012 show how the Ministry could do little to break the nexus.

For instance, under the subject “Inclusion of many unknown newspapers in the media lists of the Ministry”, a joint secretary-level officer wrote about unheard-of newspapers on the DAVP’s media list. Similar such letters go back to 2007, pointing to discrepancies in the names of newspapers. An e-mail sent to the DAVP did not evoke a response, though talking to multiple government sources showed the problem persists.

Officials said on condition of anonymity that some small newspapers had been included to maintain the ratio — 30 per cent of the advertisements to large newspapers, 35 per cent to medium ones and 15 per cent to small newspapers.

Huge sums go down the drain as govt. ads go to non-existent papers

The Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) has empanelled 7,800 newspapers, comprising small, medium and big entities. The total annual value of display advertisements released through the DAVP by different departments to empanelled newspapers was around Rs. 298 crore during 2014-15.

The previous year, the sum was Rs. 373 crore. By the time celebrations of the Narendra Modi government’s one year in office have run their course, Rs. 5 crore would have been spent in print alone for half-page advertisements in all the papers.

Yet the question of non-existent newspapers remains unanswered. Officials of the Rural Development Ministry have complained after a casual enquiry that many newspapers on the DAVP list exist only on paper.

The officials carried out their own investigations by sending a communication to the District Collectors of 600 districts to provide the list of five widely circulated newspapers. They found that the list did not tally with the list furnished by the DAVP. More was to come. The officers alleged that the circulation figures of some of the small newspapers were inflated. All it required was a chartered accountant to certify the figures. No one bothered to question or examine the figures, said a senior official.

Additionally, when requested, the newspapers were unable to provide back copies or copies for a month, raising doubts about the regularity of their appearance. In some instances, a few copies were dropped at the offices of the Press Information Bureau and the DAVP.

Going by the government’s own figures of ad spend in print, the small newspapers stand to gain Rs 40-odd crore each year. Officials had complained that close to 57 newspapers were added by the DAVP to the media lists of the Ministry. The number of dubious beneficiaries raised the question of the purpose of placing such advertisements in papers that did not even exist. But it is the money that draws everyone. A small-time publisher spoke of a nexus between some officers and beneficiaries in the release of advertisements on a quid pro quo basis.

Vipin Gaur of the Newspaper Association of India, which represents the small and medium newspapers, admits problems exist. “In fact, some papers exist only to take government advertisements and they keep the relationship going,” he says.

A few years ago, officials found 190 newspapers in the country had the same editorial content, in some cases the content was repeated week after week. Officials at the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), which registers the titles of newspapers and is authorised to conduct investigations on receipt of complaint, say they are not empowered to take action. As of March 31, 2014, 99,660 newspapers were registered in India, of which 19,755 submitted their annual statements. The Press Registration of Books and Periodicals Act requires newspapers to furnish their annual statement to the RNI. Little is done when they do not comply, and officials admit that there were a lot of bad apples in the trade.

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