Where is your Outrage now Arnab Goswami?

Published: Wednesday, Feb 06,2013, 21:23 IST
Arnab Goswami, times now, bccl, paid media

This article highlights the biased reporting by the so called news organizations in India. It exposes their criminality and collusion to misinform and misinterpret for personal gain. Numerous instances in the news and print media are given to show the extent of the rot in the system.

Many excerpts are drawn from the report on paidnews prepared by Independent journalist Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha who was one of the first to expose the 2G scam. His interview may be seen here.

The entire report may be downloaded from here (Link to PCI report). Although this report can be found on-line, our news-anchors who claim to pull out 'exclusive'  documents from government files, are silent about their own criminality.

The perversion of Journalism : The deception or fraud that such “paid news” entails takes place at three levels. The reader of the publication or the viewer of the television programme is deceived into believing that what is essentially an advertisement is in fact, independently produced news content.

How does the government wield such clout over the media organizations?

a) Since most media organizations are run at a loss, they are dependent on the government for Advertisement revenues. The following article by Mr Aditya Sinha (ex-editor DNA) illustrates how former I & B minister Ambika Soni armtwisted DNA to ensure compliance. [link]

b) An RTI query (Link to Document) has revealed how huge advertisements are given to these electronic news organizations. Will the government please explain the logic of advertising NREGA on NDTV? How many farmers watch NDTV 24x7? Or is the citizen to assume that this is just a way to ensure favorable coverage?

c) It is widely believed that threats from IT which has become the new CBI are used as a weapon to force channel owners into submission. This has seriously eroded the independence of media houses. It has been reported that the Timesgroup was served an eviction notice from their government alloted premise in Mumbai. Could this notice have been rescinded in return for present favorable coverage by timesgroup towards the government?

d) It is open knowledge that a controlling stake in various media houses is owned by industrial groups and foreign organizations with dubious intent. None of the channels declare their ownership structure which is the guiding force on the spin that they provide to their 'journalism'. The following site provides a glimpse of their cross-holding structure. [link]

e) Journalists like Burkha Dutt and Vir Singhvi have a serious issue of credibility after the exposure of the Radia tapes, where they were caught lobbying for certain ministers or providing a spin to stories to suit their paymasters. Most reporters 'look the other way' in return for 'interviews', 'exclusives', free trips, luncheons and 'awards' from their fraternity.  Even the following press-council report seriously indicts journalists [link]. One can read more about the conduct of these 'journalists' in the recently concluded Congress shivir here

f) Indian journalism which once had great editors like Mr Arun Shourie, now has the likes of Mr Vinod Sharma, who openly admits in this interview that he has opposed the Congress only once and will always follow only the editorial line dictated by the newspaper owner.

On the whole it is a conspiracy of silence and fake outrage where compromised individuals have hypocritically declared themselves to be shining examples of journalism and honesty and no-one from their Profession exposes them.

Indian journalism has been reduced to a mutual admiration society that awards itself every weekend and subjects the viewer to the mind-numbing horror of the same.

Did the undermining of Indian Journalism start with the Timesgroup?

Below is an excerpt from the report that PCI tried to bury. The reader can draw their own conclusions.

“In recent years, corruption in the Indian media has gone way beyond the corruption of individual journalists and media organizations: from “planting” information and views in lieu of favours received in cash or kind, to more institutionalized and organized forms of corruption wherein publishers of newspapers and owners of television channels receive funds for publishing or broadcasting information in favour of particular individuals or corporate entities that is disguised as “news”.

In the 1980s, after Sameer Jain became the executive head of Bennett, Coleman Company Limited (BCCL), publishers of the Times of India (TOI) group of publications, the rules of the Indian media game began to change. Besides initiating cut-throat cover-price competition, marketing was used creatively to make BCCL one of the most profitable media conglomerates in the country

The media phenomenon that has caused considerable outrage of late has been BCCL’s 2003 decision to start a “paid content” service called Medianet, which, for a price, openly offers to send journalists to cover product launches or personality-related events.

Besides Medianet, BCCL devised another “innovative” marketing and PR strategy. In 2005, ten companies, including Videocon India and Kinetic Motors, allotted unknown amounts of equity shares to BCCL as part of a deal to enable these firms to receive advertising space in BCCL-owned media ventures. The success of the scheme turned BCCL into one of the largest private equity investors in India. At the end of 2007, the media company boasted of investments in 140 companies in aviation, media, retail and entertainment, among other sectors, valued at an estimated Rs 1,500 crore.

According to the Election Commission of India, it has been observed that  restrictions on the printing and publication of posters and pamphlets and the obligations to be fulfilled thereunder, by the printers especially, are “seldom observed”. Rarely are copies of the posters etc. printed by the printing presses furnished to the District Magistrates and the Chief Electoral Officers concerned, said the Election Commission of India in a statement to the Press Council of India. When the Press Council of India contacted Shri S.K. Mehndiratta, Legal Adviser to the Election Commission of India, he stated that the newspaper being referred to by the Commission in this context was the Times of India and that the letter had been issued by the Commission to the newspaper before the 2004 general elections.”

Undermining Democracy with paid news.

Shri Sainath (Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu ) in his deposition before the Press Council of India on December 13, 2009, and again on January 27, 2010, observed that the general elections of 2009 witnessed a paradigm shift in the manner in which candidates and political parties worked hand in glove with the press and media houses in masquerading advertisements of candidates and parties as political “news”. He stated:

  • The size of the market for “paid news” is very big. In Andhra Pradesh, unions of journalists have estimated the size of the “paid news” market to be somewhere between Rs 300 crore and Rs 1,000 crore.
  • In the general elections of 2009, the head offices of newspapers and television news channels, said Shri Sainath, set “targets” and “quotas” for their regional centres. These targets were then worked into individual quotas for reporters, correspondents and special correspondents, depending on the rank of the employee in question. In April 2009, during the fifteenth general elections, the Hindu carried a story on individual journalists from several small towns in Maharashtra, like Nagpur and Amravati, complaining that they were being forced to write news stories that were paid for being published.
  • This “industry” has become so organized that large PR firms, professional designers and advertising agencies handled contracts worth many crore rupees – not just to position advertisements but to create “news”. Propaganda put out as “news” was customised by these image-creation agencies to appear as “exclusive” news articles in the publications these appeared in. But the scale of the operation was so large that confusion and overlap were inevitable and many giveaway mistakes occurred (for instance, the same “exclusive” story appeared under different bylines in rival newspapers – word for word). The use of these large corporate PR firms gave resource-rich parties an unfair edge over their electoral rivals (about whom, news was blacked out because they could not pay) and this malpractice has sullied India’s proud electoral democracy.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, politicians complained about how leading newspapers sold various “packages” or “rate cards” for publishing news in their favour and/or completely blacking out news about their opponents.
  • Shri Sainath spoke on how the ruling party in Maharashtra exploited the situation to the hilt. “In Maharashtra, it is definitely the Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) that occupies the top slot because other political parties in the state are really strapped for resources. The reason for this is not embedded in the character of any particular party: it is simply that one coalition has been in power in the state for ten years and thus has far more money. In another state, it could be another ruling party.
  • “For example, a news item headlined, ‘Young, dynamic leadership’, eulogising the Maharashtra Chief Minister Shri Ashok Chavan appeared using exactly similar words from beginning to end in three competing Marathi newspapers – Lokmat, Pudhari and Maharashtra Times. If a question were posed to these three newspapers as to how the exactly same articles appeared in their pages, their reply would be customised. They would say that accidentally one of the press releases of the Congress party went directly to the press without passing through the copy desk and therefore the same news appeared in a similar manner in all three newspapers. But, had it been a press release, it should have been circulated to all newspapers and not just three. The question, therefore, arises as to how the press release found its way only to three newspapers. The news was published by Pudhari on October 7, 2009, whereas, the other two newspapers had carried it on October 10. Is there a practice among these newspapers to carry three-day-old press releases?”
  • Shri Sainath pointed out that in the election expenditure statement submitted to the Election Commission, Maharashtra Chief Minister Shri Ashok Chavan, disclosed that he had spent less than Rs 7 lakh on his election campaign. The expenditure limit in terms of election campaign that is imposed on a candidate by the Election Commission of India is Rs 10 lakhs. Of the Rs 7 lakh, Shri Chavan stated that he had spent a mere Rs 5,379 on newspaper advertisements and another Rs 6,000 on advertisements that were on cable television networks. These figures, according to Shri Sainath, are “clearly at odds with the unprecedented media coverage the Chief Minister got during the election campaign”. “I have with me 89 full pages of news which are devoted just to Shri Ashok Chavan. Most of these news items are printed in colour. A substantial number of these pages have been culled out from those editions of the big Marathi daily newspaper Lokmat, which is the fourth most widely circulated daily in the country according to the National Readership Survey of 2006,” said Shri Sainath.
  • Several pertinent questions arise from this huge media coverage that was accorded to Shri Chavan, said Shri Sainath. What would have been the total expenditure incurred by Shri Chavan if all the “news” that had been carried about him and his achievements been considered advertisements that were paid for? How does one justify the presence of over 150 pages of “news” on one man who had at that time held the post of Chief Minister of Maharashtra for a period of only 11 months? Even Obama, the first African-American to win the US Presidential elections did not find any newspaper in the US giving him five full pages of ‘news’ before his election. And his was the costliest election campaign ever.
  • Shri Sainath also observed how a spate of genuine advertisements of politicians hit the pages of certain newspapers in Maharashtra on August 30, 2009. “This was 24 hours prior to the date elections were formally announced on which day, the model code of conduct specified by the Election Commission came into effect. After the model code of conduct came into effect, the word ‘advertisement’ disappeared from all items on political events and candidates. Even the fig leaf describing a paid news item as a ‘sponsored feature’ or a ‘response feature’ disappeared and the items were simply published and were sought to be passed off as ‘news’.
  • What Shri Sainath said was borne out by the statements of Shri Yogi Adityanath of the BJP who told Outlook that his name did not figure at all in the reports appearing in the leading dailies of Uttar Pradesh. “In my constituency of Gorakhpur from where I had won in the past, my candidature did not find a mention in the newspapers,” the BJP MP remarked, adding how every newspaper in his constituency was offering its editorial space for a package.

Some of the instances of bias in the news media

The bias seen in channels like NDTV24x7, CNN-IBN,TIMES-NOW etc are plain for all to see everyday. Below are some of the extreme cases of biased reporting and misreporting that have occurred .

  • Cover up of the cash for votes scam-tape by CNN-IBN. Despite the fact that CNN-IBN was incharge of the secret recordings for the cash for votes scam, Mr Rajdeep Sardesai has refused to release the original unedited tapes. Why would a news organization that hunts for 'scoops' and breaking news do something like this. The reader can draw their own inferences.
  • The manufactured outrage against Mr Mohan Bhagwat's speech is a blatant example of bias and spin. When he said that marriages in India were sacrosanct and not contracts like in the west, all TV channels like Times Now, CNN-IBN, NDTV and headlines deliberately claimed that he said Indian marriages were contracts of convenience and women were expected to do household chores. These were words which he never uttered, but this is the sort of cut, paste and concocct stories journalism that has now come into vogue. Details may be seen here. This was so clearly an attempt to divert the public attention from the failure of the Delhi government to protect women and deliberately malign the opposition.
  • The same Arnab Goswami who fumes with self righteous indignation over the beheading of Indian soldiers is silent as a lamb when it comes to questioning his own TimesGroup that runs a campaign called 'Aman ki Asha' for normalizing relations with Pakistan.  Even Headlines Today while bristling with mock indignation at the beheading of Indian troops holds a 'leadership' summit where the perennial chief guest is Musharraf. This doublespeak by running with the hares and hunting with the hounds only exposes their duplicity and shameless pursuit of TRP's
  • The 'secular' news media never mentions the ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated on the Kashmiri Pandits who live as refugees in their own country [link]. They conveniently ignore the fact that the likes of Sajan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler roam free after instigating and participating in the  massacre of over 4000 Sikhs in the capital. For over a decade they have gone hammer and tongs against Modi against whom not a single FIR has been registered, but they conveniently 'forget' that the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat riot have started serving their sentences while the likes of Tytler and Kumar roam around with taxpayer funded security.  Even the mock outrage exhibited against Owaisi's hate speech where he threatened to massacre a 100Crore people was only after a 10 day campaign by the social media and after his hate video had gone viral on Youtube. Even then they are very careful to not air his hate speech and try equate him with the RSS. When has the RSS or the VHP asked for the murder of even 1 individual? Yet the media's campaign of maligning anything remotely associated with Hinduism continues unabated because it suits their paymasters.
  • Since the government spokesman have no face to face the nation, they choose to fight through their proxies like Sanjay Jha, Vinod Sharma, Kumar Ketkar etc in loaded debates that divert the nation's attention.
  • All this is part of a well-rehearsed campaign which has successfully diverted the nation's attention to the mind-boggling loot and corruption in this country. Since it is impossible to give a positive spin to the government, it is part of the media's deliberate strategy to paint all parties with the same brush and ensure that the congress comes to power because of the TINA (There is No Alternative) factor.

In case the reader believes that it is only the English news and print media that is corrupted, the PCI report goes on to give instances of perversion of the Hindi Press. The Hindi publications indicted in the report are Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Aaj , Urdu Sahara and Rashtriya Sahara

Examples of paid news from the Hindi Press

Here are excerpts from what three contestants from the Ghosi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh told Pratham Pravakta (July 16, 2009):

Samajwadi Party candidate Shri Arshad Jamal said: “Newspapers such as Dainik Jagran, Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Aaj and Urdu Sahara asked me for money and offered ‘packages’ varying between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh.”

Communist Party of India candidate Shri Atul Kumar Anjaan said: “I have received phone calls from representatives of two of the largest newspapers in north India, Dainik Jagran and Hindustan. They asked me for Rs 15 lakh each for coverage of my campaign in their publications. When I rejected these offers, Dainik Jagran did not published anything about my activities between March 22 and April 16, the newspaper did not even publish any report about the rally that was addressed by the CPI General Secretary Shri A.B. Bardhan.

BJP candidate Shri Ramiqbal Singh said the following in an interview to Pratham Pravakta reporter Shri Rupesh Pandey in Lucknow on February 5, 2010: “During the election campaign in 2009, the bureau chief of Dainik Jagran came to me and asked me to pay money for coverage. He said that members of his bureau were just following instructions given to them by their head office. He demanded Rs 15 lakh from me.

The Congress candidate from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh Dr Santosh Singh stated the following in an interview to Pratham Pravakta (July 16, 2009): “After I had filed my nomination paper, a representative of the Varanasi edition of Dainik Jagran contacted me and asked me to buy one of two ‘packages’ worth Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively, for which I was offered comprehensive coverage of my election campaign. Another newspaper, Aaj, asked for an amount varying between Rs 50,000 and Rs 5 lakh. The representatives of these newspapers who met me said they were merely following orders given to them by their managements… These representatives told me that they are just following the order of management. I did not pay any money”.

Shri Ramakant Yadav of the BJP who contested and won the Lok Sabha election from Azamgarh stated the following in an interview in Pratham Pravakta (July 16, 2009): “Hindustan newspaper asked me to pay Rs 10 lakh for publishing ‘news’ about my election campaign. I refused to pay any money. In an article, the newspaper claimed I would lose the election. But, now that the results have been declared, you know that I won.”

On April 13, 2009, the Ranchi edition of Dainik Jagran published two “news” items on page 7, both relating to the Chatra Lok Sabha constituency. The first item was in favour of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate Shri Nagmani (one name) with the headline stating: “Nagmani is getting support from every class and section” virtually declaring that he would become the undisputed winner. The same page had another “news” item claiming that Shri Arun Kumar Yadav, a candidate belonging to Janata Dal (United), who contested from the same constituency, would emerge a “clear winner”. Both the items do not carry any byline although the font used is different from the font used for other news articles in the publication. On April 16, the Patna edition of Hindustan published a banner headline stating that the “Congress is ready to create history in Bihar” but curiously, there was no news item related to this headline.

Shri Sanjeev Pandey, a freelance journalist based in Chandigarh, provided the Press Council of India, with over 70 clippings from different newspapers that were published from Haryana. All the clippings were from newspaper editions printed in the run-up to the assembly elections in Haryana and appeared to be “paid news” items.

The Rohtak edition of Haribhoomi published a news item on October 8, 2009 in favour of Congress candidate Shri Birendra Singh. Shri Singh was contesting assembly elections from Uchana constituency. However, this news item carried no byline. This news item claimed that Shri Singh had been getting support from all and sundry in society. Detailed descriptions of the plans of his election campaign were also mentioned. Using the same format, Haribhoomi published a news item in favour of BJP candidate Shri Meva Singh the following day, that is, on  October 9, 2009. Giving an account of BJP National President Shri Rajnath Singh’s rally, this news item claimed that “after this rally Meva has got support from each and every section of society”.

The Panipat edition of Dainik Jagran published a news item on page 9 of its edition dated October 8, 2009, that was in favour of the electoral prospects of the Congress. The news item did not carry any byline. The headline of the news item stated that the “good work” done by the Congress had marginalised the electoral prospects of the leader of the Opposition in the state. Each and every sentence of this news item is in favour of the Congress party. This news item criticises leaders of non-Congress parties and says that they would not be able to make a mark in the elections because the Congress had done very good work for every section of society. This news item added that candidates of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) led by Shri Bhajan Lal would not be able to harm the electoral prospects of candidates belonging to the Congress.

By way of contrast, the Ludhiana edition of the same newspaper published a news item in favour of the HJC on October 11, 2009, with a headline that stated that the HJC would play the role of king or king-maker after the elections. Each line of this news item sings paeans of praise in favour of the HJC and prophesised that the party would play a very important role in forming the government after the poll results are declared. Surprisingly, on the very next day, that is, on October 12, 2010, the Ludhiana edition of the same newspaper again published a news item that was apparently paid for in favour of Shri Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana and is credited to “a reporter”. The headline of this news item states that INLD would obtain electoral benefits against the incumbent ruling party, that is, the Congress.

In stark contrast to the post-poll projections of the earlier news items, each line of the last-mentioned news item clearly favours the INLD. This news item reported that there was a “wave” in favour of the INLD in Haryana and went on to predict a clear victory for Shri Chautala and the INLD. The news story claimed that the INLD would be able to easily win the magical number of 46 constituencies that would be required to obtain a majority in the state assembly in order to form a government.  This news item states that the Congress party was “struggling” because of internal feuds and that this would benefit the INLD. The story did not end there.

On the next day, that is, on October 13, 2009, the Ludhiana edition of the Dainik Jagran reverted to praising the Congress in another news item. There is no credit line given to this news story, the headline of which claimed that the Congress was ready to “repeat the history” that was made during the Lok Sabha elections when the Congress won handsomely in the state. Every single line of this particular news story praises the Congress party and the Chief Minister of Haryana Shri Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The news item claimed that non-Congress parties would perform poorly in the elections, that their candidates would forfeit their deposits and went on to make a prediction that the Congress would win 75 out of the 90 seats in the state assembly.

Despite this voluminous evidence, the press council of India chooses not to act and instead subverts the publication of this report. Instead of impleading itself and advocating for publishing the entire Radia tapes, it chooses to be silent. What does Mr Katju have to say by way of explanation for this conduct of PCI?

The common man probably believes that Doordarshan is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the government. But the citizen needs to wonder if these so called 'independent' news providers are any different?

Author : manekshaws | Follow the writer on twitter/manekshaws

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Disclaimer: The author is a commentator on issues of national interest. These are his personal views and do not necessarily reflect IBTL's opinion.
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