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Fighting paid election coverage
The 'deal' between the newspaper managements or their representatives and the candidates was that the 'coverage' would begin from the date of election notification or whenever the deal was agreed upon. Women journalists write to the chief electoral officer in Andhra Pradesh.
Posted/Updated Thursday, May 14 20:20:45, 2009

 To,

The ChiefElectoral Officer,

AndhraPradesh May 7, 2009

Dear Sir,

We, the members of the Hyderabadchapter of the Network of Women in Media, India wish todraw your attention to the widespread, unabashed manner in which the Telugudaily newspapers of Andhra Pradesh resorted to the subterfuge of selling newsspace in the guise of news coverage of candidates in the just- concludedAssembly and Lok Sabha elections.

Not only did the newspapers indulge in unprofessional,immoral and unethical practice but also cheated the readers and misrepresentedthe situation regarding the prospects of candidates on the ground. While thecandidates circumvented the expenditure limit imposed by the ElectionCommission, the newspapers committed a financial offense by not accounting forthe revenue.

The "deal" between the newspaper managements or theirrepresentatives and the candidates was that the "coverage" would begin from thedate of election notification or whenever the deal was agreed upon. The 'paidnews' would appear in the news pages of the district supplements and the'coverage' would continue till the day of polling.

That the news coverage was not genuine or that the newsitems, profiles of the candidate, their contribution to public life and indeptharticles on the their prospects of winning were generated outside of thenewspapers was evident from the fact that the same item/article appeared indifferent newspapers. Sometimes, a newspaper carried two articles in the sameedition, on different pages though, stating that the chances of winning werebright for rival candidates in a constituency.

This unethical practice of taking money for publishing'positive' stories of a candidate's prospects was earlier limited to staffersof newspapers in the districts. The 'deal' was between an individual journalistand the candidate. This time round however, the managements decided that theytoo wanted a piece of the cake and so every single Telugu daily newspaperformalized this underhand method of making money and cheating their readers.The rate was the same as the advertisement tariff of the newspaper for percolumn centimeter.

The Electronic Media too adopted similar methods topromote candidates through "paid coverage" in their news channels, newsprogrammes and 'live' coverage.

According to our information, the Telugu newspapers madeRs 50 crores and Rs 100 crores each through such 'paid news coverage' and eachnews channel made Rs 5 crores.

We therefore urge the CEC to constitute a time-boundcommittee to investigate these goings-on and report to the people. We also urgeyou to issue notices to the managements of newspapers and television newschannels to explain why they played the fraud on their readers and viewers.They also need to account for the huge money they raked in. This subversion ofdemocracy by the media which is supposed to be sentinel of the society is worsethan the cash-liquor phenomenon that corrupts the voters.

The media, both print and electronic have committed anillegality by misrepresenting facts, influencing the voters, spreadingfalsehood, and distorting truth by playing up candidates who paid them. This isnot only gross dereliction of duty as Fourth Estate and as watchdog of societybut also portends a dangerous drift of the media towards ganging up against thepeople. Indeed, they are weakening and endangering the very institution ofdemocracy which has sustained their very existence.

 

Related link on paid coverage in Madhya Pradesh:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124158152250690795.html

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