New Delhi: The Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, has accused the Narendra Modi dispensation of stopping government advertisements to reputed newspapers such as The Hindu, The Telegraph, The Times of India and Anandabazar Patrika for being critical of the government in their reportage.
Chowdhury, in a debate in Parliament Wednesday, said the media is being suppressed and advertisements being stopped because the publications raise their voice against the government.
Sources in the government confirmed to ThePrint that advertisements in The Hindu, TOI and The Telegraph were stopped earlier this year, before the general elections. While it is not clear if the “unwritten” and “unrecorded” ban continues for TOI and The Telegraph, it definitely continues for The Hindu till date.
Chowdhury called it an “undemocratic” and a “megalomaniacal” style of functioning, pointing out that The Hindu and The Times of India “exposed” the “corruption” in the Rafale deal and alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Modi respectively, while The Telegraph and its sister publication ABP were critical of him.
Central government advertisements, from across ministries, are released to publications by the Bureau of Outreach & Communication (BOC) — earlier known as the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity — under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B).
Satyendra Prakash, director general at BOC, did not respond to calls and messages from ThePrint when reached for comment on why these publications have not been getting government advertisements.
A top government official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that in the absence of specified rules about giving or depriving a publication of government advertisements for a certain time frame, it remains the prerogative of the political dispensation in power.
The official said that, ideally, advertisements are always given out on the basis of the target audience and readership. When a ministry has to give an advertisement, it specifies the rough content of the advertisement to the BOC and seeks a media list. This is usually around 15 days before an advertisement has to be published.
The media list prepared is mainly a mix of publications which have a good reach among the a specific target audience.
“However, some names are later chucked out of the media list after a verbal communication to DAVP (now BOC) from the top echelons of the government. The names are usually of those publications which have carried negative reports on the government. Depriving a publication of government advertisements is used as a penalising measure,” the official said.
The official said while this trend has been observed under Congress governments too, such bans then lasted for a shorter period. Earlier, publications like Gujarat Samachar and
Rajasthan Patrika had also been denied government advertisements.
“Denial of government advertisements to certain publications has increased in the last few years, and they are usually for an indefinite period,” the official said, adding that nothing is ever in writing and only verbal instructions are issued from higher-ups in the government.
Newspapers can also approach the courts in such situations.
Affects readers more than newspapers
This denial of advertisements affects readers more than the newspapers, another government official said.
“For instance, if there is an advertisement on the Mudra scheme, and if The Hindu, which has a large reader base in the south, is not given that advertisement, readers in that region would never get to know of it,” this official said. “But then, governments often use this to get even with a publication.”
If the publications are blacklisted because of a censure from media watchdog Press Council of India (PCI), their names are posted on the government website. But, if they are kept out of government advertisements because of political decisions, there is no notification in the public realm, explained the official.
Even when the PCI censures a publication for paid news or fake news, the discretion of how to penalise a publication lies with the BOC or the respective state governments. And this penalty is often in the form of a denial of government advertisements to the censured publication.
A ‘waste’ that serves no purpose
Government insiders had earlier told ThePrint that the Modi government feels that advertisements, particularly to national newspapers, are a ‘waste’, and serve no purpose.
“The government believes in other forms of communication, and when it comes to advertisements, it is keener to dole out ads to regional publications,” an official said.
However, the situation is different for political advertisements, which are given in large numbers to all publications. This is because the advertiser wants to ensure the message reaches the maximum number of people.
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