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Media's Rs50 crore shame in Gujarat
Sheela Bhatt in Saurashtra |
December 07, 2002 18:35 IST
On December 5, at around 1800 IST, the younger brother of a Congress candidate walked into the office of a senior editor in Saurashtra, which is on the west coast of Gujarat.
He took out two bundles of Rs 10,000 each and gave them to the editor along with four pages of handwritten notes.
It was a bribe for printing the speech of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was in Babra, a town in Amreli district, that afternoon.
In Rajkot, on the same day, a BJP leader told a journalist to publish a speech delivered by caretaker Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a rally. He wanted his picture to go along with it. The politician agreed to pay Rs160 per centimetre of the column.
That is the lowest rate, which can go up to Rs 800, a journalist told rediff.com
Both the items were published on Friday, December 6.
Bharat Chauhan, editor and publisher of Avadh Times, told rediff.com: "This menace comes up during election time. It is happening in most of the Gujarati newspapers. No one is happy about it, and no one wants to talk about it. Newspapers all over Gujarat are paid cash by the Congress and BJP candidates."
Nearly 35,000 copies of Avadh Times are sold daily. He added, "The rate depends on the reach of the newspaper. But generally the rate of printing the election propaganda of a candidate in the form of news is always higher than the printing of advertisements."
Many editors and politicians said off the record that each candidate has a budget of Rs10 lakh to pay mainstream and regional newspapers. They also tell journalists to avoid reporting about their rivals.
Vikram Vakil, Editor-Publisher of Hotline weekly, said: "In Gujarat 400 candidates fight election seriously and they end up paying Rs50 crore to editors and owners.
"When [former] CEC [chief election commissioner] T N Seshan curbed the election expenses of candidates, parties resorted to this practice."
Kaushik Mehta, a senior journalist based in Rajkot, told rediff.com: "This is a negative trend and unhealthy for the media. This tradition started around 1995. The BJP began it when it wanted publicity in a big way.
"Some of the Gujarati newspapers do not give even independent analysis; they don't write on people's issues or file fresh news stories during election. Most dailies are only carrying the unedited write-up provided by the candidates."
A candid Chauhan said the rate card of Avadh Times carries the charges for 'paid up news' and he is even willing to give a bill.
The, rate card, which is in Gujarati, says: Samachar na rupman jaherkhabar chapvano rate [rate for the advertisement to be printed in form of a news item].
On December 5 one of the district newspapers in Saurashtra gave a receipt to the supporter of a Samata Party candidate for printing news.
A senior editor-publisher in Saurashtra claimed: "It is unethical, but there is no law that prohibits this practice. Show me any act that says that we cannot accept money from candidates to print news items related to him. Candidates spend Rs30 lakh or more in each election. What is wrong if they pay Rs2 lakh to me? It is peanuts for them."