Ad masquerades as news

IN Media Practice | 25/06/2010
The Dainik Bhaskar in Haryana has found an ingenious way to make money from election coverage without attracting the allegation of indulging in paid news.
The HOOT finds that the ‘story’ is written in Hindi, the declaration that it is an advertisement is in English! Pix: an ad published on June 5, 2010, DB, Panipat edition.

The Dainik Bhaskar in Haryana has found an ingenious way to make money from election coverage without attracting the allegation of indulging in paid news. It carries an item on a candidate written in the style of a news feature, but at the end of the piece in tiny letters it says ADVT. The item is written in Hindi, the declaration that it is an advertisement is in English!   Zilla parishad and panchayat elections are currently being held in Haryana. Two phases of elections in the state are over, the last phase will be in July.

 

The paper’s marketing department thought up a promotional scheme called "Vote ki Appeal," and advertised it in the newspaper. It helpfully provided a series of phone nos: "phone kare aur labh uthaye!" (Call and benefit.) The advertisement said it was presenting  hopefuls for the zilla parishad, block samiti, sarpanch and panch elections with a golden opportunity.

 

As the picture on the Hoot home page shows the so called ad looks like a regular newspaper story. In the centre of the story  however is the candidates election symbol, a gas cylinder.  The story line of this article datelined Kurukshetra, is familiar to those who have been tracking the kind of coverage given  in the paid news genre. It begins by saying that candidate Gurnam Singh of ward no. 11 is assured a victory in this  (zilla parishad) election. "Saini ke paksh me jo samarthan ki lahar chali wo-h  chunav jeetne ke baad hi thamegi."  (he is getting a wave of support.) The  four column ad-which-looks-like a story is written in the third person, as if coming from a reporter. What did this advt cost him? In the region of Rs 5000 per insertion.  Stringers who work for Bhaskar were urged to get advertising worth at least Rs 5000 per candidate.  The candidates were not biting easily, we are told targets were not reached.

 

Does a panchayat election candidate need to advertise in a newspaper, given than in that local universe it is not difficult for a candidate to reach his voters personally? May be not, but in the last ten years more than one big Hindi newspaper, including Dainik Jagran, has pioneered the practice persuading of panchayat candidates to popularize their election symbol by advertising in a newspaper at election time.. Now the format has gone beyond to include both symbol and a seeming news story, but the rates for panchayat election adverts are Rs 3500 or less.   An advertisement for a sarpanch which is with the Hoot  tells you how village Gada Radan in Kurukshetra used to suffer from excessively unhygienic conditions which caused disease. All that changed after Baljindra Singh Babbu became the sarpanch.

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