More on how the media earned from the elections

BY Anil Chamdia| IN Media Practice | 09/06/2009
The way in which the ruling party in Punjab had chalked out a plan for exploiting the media to its advantage during elections as can be seen from the following chart.
ANIL CHAMDIA brings some questionable media practices to the CEC’s notice.

Excerpts from a Media Studies Group petition to the Chief Election Commissioner, and the Chairman, Press Council.

 

                                 

 

 

I am reporting my concern and filing my complaint before you vis-à-vis a concrete instance. Hon. P.M. Mr.Manmohan Singh had visited Amritsar during the Election tour. He addressed a rally there. However, the local TV channels did not telecast this visit directly whereas there had been a direct telecast of the rallies of BJP leader Mr. Lal Krishna Advani when he visited Majitha.

 

While it is true that to telecast or not to telecast a news item depends upon the discretion of the telecaster and upon his estimation of its newsworthiness, the matter is closely linked with Press Freedom. Could it be possible that none of the news channels considered the PM’s rally for direct  telecasting ? And they found the news of an address by Shri Lal Krishna Advani  who happens to be a leader of the one of the parties who is a partner of the ruling Akal Dal Party worthy of the honour? And this has occurred when there are restrictions on media during the election period.

 

There have been so many occurrences in Punjab from which it can be known what a grip the leaders of the Akali Dal have on the electronic media. It may be that the problem of Press Freedom and its effect may be outside your pale. We demand a study of the liberties the Media took under the specious excuse of Press Freedom in reporting during the elections .This will help in appreciating the novel way developed in Punjab in reporting election news. A study of the news telecast during elections and a study of the subjects of the panel discussions  would help to clarify the different ways the media has invented in reporting, which the Election Commission has not investigated so far. Or it is quite possible that these have been overlooked.

 

Let me clarify at the outset that this issue is related to all of India. The way in which the ruling party  in Punjab had chalked out a plan for exploiting the media to its  advantage during elections as can be seen from the following chart.

 

Period of advertisement: lst April 2008 to January 2009

 

 

          Name of TV Channel     

     Value of order

 

PUC Punjab

Prasar Bharati                  

Fast Way                          

MH 1                                

       Rs. 18,32,373/-

  Rs.  2,62,069                        

     Rs. 40,40,737/-

  Rs. 58,74,819/-

 

 

 

Does it not indicate that these the use of these channel is directly related to the ruling party during elections?  It is.  And this is a new way found out by government to defray the election expenses through government coffers.

 

 Besides Punjab a similar study should be made in other States also  and especially in the neighbouring Delhi. One correspondent told me that during a press briefing he had put some questions and persistently pursued the matter but the spokesman could not give answers for two days. These questions pertained to inviting offers from some advertising companies for grant of contracts. These advertisements were issued by DAVP. The question asked was  ‘Was the concurrence of the Election Commission obtained for this?’

 

A study need to be undertaken in respect of the Central Govenment on the lines of the Punjab Government especially in connection with advertising companies which are working for the government. ‘How many of them are selected for providing work in future?’ Yet another matter is more serious--the election schedule was more or less finalized. On the 28th February 2009  government increased the  advertisement rate for advertisement placed through DAVP by ten percent. Not only that but the 15 % commission normally claimed on the advertisement  was also condoned upto June 2009.

 

Is the practice of government spending for the party’s election expenses assuming a more or less permanent feature? The Election Commission should also think of ways and means to stop this.

 

Earning during elections

 

They say Parliamentary Democracy stands on four columns. The Fourth Column is losing its reliability. Election is declared as the most solemn period of parliamentary democracy. The Media has converted this sacred period into its Great Earning period. Only the  candidates get media coverage who represent the so-called big parties. The Election Commission allowed only a fortnight for conducting propaganda. There are so many restrictions on election canvassing that unless one shells out enough money it is difficult to get places for putting up posters, banners etc. Candidates with means put these up even in places which have been prohibited . To mention one instance a  candidate from Merath had used such a place(N.H. 58 and 64  ) but administration could not do anything  about it. On the other side the Media did not publish any  negative news relating to his candidature for he had loaded the press with advertisements.

 

The Media does not give any space for poor and spendthrift candidates. Neither had the Commission made any arrangements of its own by which a poor candidate can introduce him/herself to the voters in his area. During the past five years a new method of doing business has taken root in the  media. Advertisements are being published as news item in papers. Candidates with means purchase space in papers which is then at their disposal to publish news as they desire. I am enclosing herewith many such instances. In all the Stated including Punjab entire pages have been purchased for this purpose. Nowhere on such a page is there any indication that what is printed there is an advertisement.

 

The Commission has fixed a ceiling of twenty five lakhs for a candidate for election expenses. It is necessary for the Commission to verify the bills for the purpose. However, hardly any realistic attempt seems to be made to determine the actual expenses incurred. The Commission could at least look into these bills and try to ascertain the charges  the papers made for similar exercises in the past. I can tell you that the candidates secured bills for a vastly lesser amounts for the service of advertisements as news items.

 

 

I expect the Election Commission to take a lead and institute studies how the media canvassed for the candidates and also sold space for publishing advertisement in the garb of news items. The Press Council also has a definite stand in this matter. And it is its responsibility to hold an open court and invite people to freely put forth their experiences and complaints. This is not the first election when this business of publishing advertisements in the garb of news items has begun. In fact, in many States the elections have been conducted in this atmosphere.

 

I sincerely hope that you would endeavour to initiate abiding steps which would help protect our democracy.

 

 

Anil Chamdia

Media Studies Group

msgroup.india@gmail.com

 

Enclosures

 

1-Jansatta 15-5-2009 and 17-5-2009

2-Prabhat Khabar 26-3-2009 and 27-3-2009

3-Hindustan 10-5-2009

4-Dastak 15-5-2009

5-Khabar Khand

6-Copy of  complaint filed before Punjab Commission

7-:Patiala Editions of :Punjab Kesari and of Jagwani, a Punjabi language publication of the same group 29-4-2009 and 30-4-2009

8-PIB Releass 28-2-2009 re:Enhancement of  DAVP Tariff

 

 

 

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