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How The Times of India, The Hindu & The Telegraph were ‘banned’ from receiving govt ads

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury raised the issue in Parliament, and officials admit the Modi govt has used ‘unwritten’ bans as a penalising measure.

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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 HinduThe TelegraphThe 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 HinduTOI 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.

Also read: Indian media controlled by a few, a risk to press freedom and pluralism: Study

Penalising measure

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.

Also read: Modi and Rahul Gandhi were friends in 2019 Lok Sabha polls – whenever the enemy was media

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.

Also read: A social media ad policy, censor overhaul: What’s on the cards as Javadekar returns to I&B

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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  1. Whilst such a response as “penalising measure” only shows their petulance at Best and their propensity for autocracy at worst..

    …I think that should be the end of it. Bringing even a single organisational lawsuit, let alone a class-action: Against the ‘Union of India’ is an exercise in futility. This will just force them to move on to the next thing which, for all ya know — might be even worse than this.

    The budget for Central Government ads across national newspapers combined must not be more than the fund reserved for janitorial duties in a single major Railway Board, is it? 😏

  2. At young age we used read the HINDU paper while having morning coffee for over 20 years or so in Madras, in Bangalore, for the past 15 years Im reading TOI, I always felt both of them are controlled by realestate mafia, pro congress, they need to change the way they run the paper.

    Is this the reason TOI started quiz for its readers?

    • “realestate mafia []”, “pro Congress”???

      Just not-too-long-ago: I read TOI® in which there “credible-enough-to-get-a-book-published” regional journo painted the incumbent CM of Uttar Pradesh as an innocent-target of a “murderous attack”( direct-quote) — and THAT TOO in his “firebrand-sage”( oxymorons FTW!) era.

      Perhaps, you are just extrapolating the local-/regional-news coverage of South India to the national ones. Don’t forget, TOI® is the sister-concern of “Times® 🐄” — the very same, much-promoted outlet that keeps dubbing Kerala as “the exclave of Pakistan”( paraphrased).

  3. News papers have a vested interest. They have a tilt. They are not always objective.
    They try to mobilise public opinion for a political party. For this they take money . They are not honest people that they pretend

    • …And pray tell, how’s your generic soliloquy relevant here?

      Otherwise, I can also mutter that: Nobody in the whole of Civilisation is honest, least of all the so-called “religious leaders” unlike their pretense.

  4. And where is the written rule that every Newspapier should get government adds. Stop sulking.

    • Newspaper* There! FTFY ☺️
      Indeed. 👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾

      But there’s also no written rules that what’s and what’s not Indian culture and morals and yet..

      …People try to enforce it all the time. Take the ever-notorious CBFC, for instance.
      The crux of this argument lies in an economic theory. Doesn’t mean it’s an ironclad-argument. It doesn’t need to.

  5. It is better to give more government ads to vernacular press for them to come up. A lot of unbiased & ethical reporting originate from it. In fact most. We should also not doubt the reach of this section of media among people.

  6. Some newspapers made it a point to criticize, well beyond the requirements of honest journalism.

  7. During Emergency period, Sanjay Gandhi asked AIR to ban the songs of Kishore Kumar and asked Doordarshan to ban the movies of Dev Anand and Gulzar. And they were all done due to personal attitude rather than national. If they stopped advertisement for The Hindu, I will totally support that, the reason being this news papers only on negative news and biased in their approach. As they got paid by Congress, they don’t need govt funding for advertisements.

    • Bwahahahahaha!

      Your concluding statement aside, are you sure that The Hindu® is a state-run( “PSU”) news outlet?

      Besides, any evidence about such “direct” instructions to pre-Prasar Bharti®, non-autonomous and out-and-out erstwhile “media wings” of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting? Above all, did the Minister of I&B ensure that they were carried-out duly?

  8. When the Advertisements are reaching faster in electronic media now, there is no need of putting the same in print media except for detailed official communication. It is really pity that most of the national level newspapers are after catchy advertisements for the sake of revenue. While the news contents are 40 percent, the remaining pages are full of all sorts of advertisements which was not so about few decades back.

  9. BJP always tries to portray that they are better than the Congress. But when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they are always like – It happened during the Congress time, so will happen now too.

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