Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh government of Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has signed a Rs 8.15 crore deal with media conglomerate Times Group to enhance the “image of the state and its leaders on the national stage by creating awareness on (its) policies through media group Times Network”.
The deal, which has triggered murmurs about public money being used to give a makeover to the image of Reddy, comes on the back of controversies involving him and his YSR Congress Party.
The deal was finalised last month and a government order issued on 28 October naming Bennett Coleman & Co. — also known as the Times Group — as the beneficiary. The order authorised the state’s information & public relations commissioner to draw Rs 8.15 crore to pay for it.
“The Commissioner, Information & Public Relations, Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada, is hereby authorised to draw the above amount as released in the G.O. 2nd read above to meet the expenditure for adopting the concept proposed by the M/s Bannet (sic) Coleman and Company Ltd, Delhi to enhance the image of state and its leaders on the national stage by creating awareness on the policies and schemes through media group Times Network,” the order said.
“This is to elevate the government’s image — not only on TV channels but on different modes such as print, electronic media and all. It is for publicity purposes,” a top Andhra government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint.
“I cannot say exactly how this is done but this is a decision from the Chief Minister’s office… The previous government had hired a private agency for Rs 2.5 crore a month but we didn’t employ them,” the official said.
Vijay Kumar Reddy, Andhra’s Commissioner (I&PR), who signed the government order under his other designation of Ex-Officio Spl. Secretary to Gov., did not respond to calls from ThePrint seeking comment.
Andhra government advisor G.V.D. Krishna Mohan refused to comment, saying the “I&PR team would be able to provide the details”. Ajeya Kallam, principal advisor to the chief minister, and Information and Public Relations Minister Perni Venkataramiah also did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Responding to an email from ThePrint, a representative of the Times Network, which is part of the Times Group, said that it is a bonafide media services company that offers premium audience and creative services to prospective advertisers as its business model.
“We confirm that the AP government has contracted us for a Commercial Advertising and Branded Content service work order,” Times Network said. The Times Group is India’s largest media conglomerate, with publications in more than a dozen languages, TV news and entertainment channels and digital media platforms.
A CM under fire
Jagan Mohan Reddy courted controversy last month for his explosive letter to the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, alleging that Supreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana (the CJI in-waiting) has been influencing “sittings of state High Court including the roster of a few Honourable Judges”.
Legal experts, however, had slammed Jagan’s move as an attempt at “terrorising the judiciary and bench-hunting”. They also questioned the timing of the letter saying charges have come as Justice Ramana is heading the bench hearing a PIL to fast-track criminal cases pending against former and current lawmakers, which includes Reddy, who is facing 31 cases, of which 11 are under the lens of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The chief minister and his party’s image also took a hit after opposition parties targeted him in September for a spate of attacks on temples in the state under his government’s watch.
Reddy, however, isn’t the only chief minister under fire for involving the media to ‘improve’ his image. The Naidu government had in December 2016 faced severe flak for issuing an order to appoint 25 journalists specifically to carry out publicity work for the then chief minister. According to the order, special teams consisting of 25 journalists were to be recruited on an outsourcing basis with each journalist to be paid about Rs 51,468 for the work.
With inputs from Amrita Nayak Dutta