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Your Newspaper Controls Your Vote – Govts. Control the Newspaper

The title of this Article may seem too harsh, but it is sadly true. I skim through 2-3 newspapers daily – The Hindu, Ajit, and Punjabi Tribune. Daily, I observe that Newspapers frame the same piece of news in different manners.


Analysis of  A News

For instance, today, on the main page of the Ajit, a Headline reads as:

“ਕੇਜਰੀਵਾਲ ਦੀ ਰਿਹਾਇਸ਼ ’ਤੇ ਨਿਜ਼ਮਾਂ ਦੀ ਉਲੰਘਣਾ – ਗਰੀਨ ਟ੍ਰਿਬਿਊਨਲ ਵਲੋਂ ਦਿੱਲੀ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਨੂੰ ਜੁਰਮਾਨਾ”

which would loosely translate to:

“Violation of rules at Kejriwal’s residence – Delhi govt fined by Green Tribunal”

The Hindu reported this news as:

“Govt. fined for delay in report on ‘violation’ at CM House”

Let’s look closely at both the headlines. The one reported by Ajit seems to be conveying that there has been some violation of rules at the residence of Kejriwal (present Chief Minister of Delhi), and because of that, the Green Tribunal has fined the Delhi Government.

The Hindu headline, on the other hand, puts inverted commas around the word ‘violation’, which means that the violation is not proven yet. Further, the headline conveys that the fine is not for ‘violation’ but for delay in submitting some report in relation to the alleged violation.

It can also be understood that Ajit has categorically used the word “Kejriwal’s Residence” for CM House, whereas it might not have done so in the case of PM’s official residence.


Daily Propaganda

In the context of just one piece of news on a single day, the above-noted piece of news would not make much difference in the minds of readers. They will probably forget it. But, when such kind of ‘anti’ or ‘pro’ framing of news is done daily, then it starts to create an impact. Readers of a newspaper would develop a thought process that is ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ something.

The same logic applies to almost all Media Outlets.

In the wider scheme of things, I couldn’t care less about speakers who talk on general topics that have no real effect on the lives of the masses. But it is a matter of concern when a platform, starts talking in a completely biased manner, about topics that have a wide effect on the life of the masses.

Power of Media

Newspapers, TV News Channels, etc. fall into the latter category. Media has the power to make or break NEWS. It controls public opinion and discourse. These days, social media has also become a large part of the said discourse, but still, traditional media outlets have held their ground to a large extent.

Governments change, but usually, people do not change the Media they consume. Ajit is one of the oldest and most widely read Punjabi Newspapers. The Hindu claims a similar popularity among English Newspapers. In my humble opinion, the Media must not be biased, at least in the News Section of their Publications. They must not use their News section to spread Propaganda. After all, it can do whatever it wants in the ‘Opinion’ section.

For instance, in the case at hand, Ajit should not have referred to Delhi CM’s Official House as Kejriwal’s Residence. Similarly, it should have used inverted commas around the word ‘violation’. Even though some might argue that a novice reader would anyhow not notice the inverted commas, but by doing so, the newspaper would discharge its duty, rest is upon the readers to interpret.

The Media Outlets can even frame specific policy guidelines for referring to certain things in their News Pieces. For instance, while referring to the official residences of elected representatives, they can frame a policy to either refer all of them with the name of the representative, eg. Modi’s House, Maan’s House, Mamta’s House, or they should refer to all of them by the official name, eg. CM House, PM House, Raj Bhavan, Rashtrapati Bhavan, etc.

So, even though, it might be an arduous task to be objective while being biased, still pre-framed guidelines would serve as a pathway to Free & Fair Reporting.


On Government Advertisements

I am sad but I believe that the Newspaper Advertisements play an important role in the News Reporting process. For instance, on the Front Page of Ajit, daily, a banner advertisement is given by the Central Government. Today, the said advertisement read as:

“ਮੋਦੀ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਕੀ ਗਾਰੰਟੀ

ਸਾਰਿਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਸੁਰੱਖਿਅਤ ਅਤੇ ਆਧੁਨਿਕ ਯਾਤਰੀ ਸੁਵਿਧਾਵਾਂ”

{“Modi Government Guarantee

Safe and modern passenger facilities to all”}

If a citizen travels on trains, then he/she will know for sure whether there has been an improvement in the safety/modernization of the services. In my opinion, no government needs to tell people that they have built Railway Stations because such constructions are self-evident. A Railway Station is not something that can be hidden by the Opposition Propaganda. It is a sheer wastage of Public Money.


Media speaks Negatively – Governments say NO

Yesterday, the Central Government Advertisement read as:

“ਮੋਦੀ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਕੀ ਗਾਰੰਟੀ

ਦੇਸ਼ ਦੇ ਵਿਕਾਸ ਵਿੱਚ ਨਾਰੀ ਸ਼ਕਤੀ ਦੀ ਮਜਬੂਤ ਭਾਗੀਦਾਰੀ”

{“Modi Government Guarantee

Strong Participation of Women Power in Development of Nation”}

This advertisement relates to the enactment passed by the Parliament where they have mandated 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. It is indeed a very good step forward. But, sadly, the said enactment does not apply to the 2024 Parliamentary Elections. So, its effect can be felt by people contesting in 2029, i.e., 5 years from now. Sadly, the common masses would not know that, because they are not so nuanced. If they read the Newspaper Ad, they will just get the idea that something positive has happened, and that has been somehow done by Modi. When such advertisement falls on the faces of the readers/voters daily then that has an impeccable impact on the psyche of the common masses.

Try and think about the impact of such Advertisements when those Ads also have the power to snub away any negative News. Believe it or not, but Advertisements run the Newspapers. So, when a party/government gives Ads in a Newspaper, then that increases the revenue/profit of the said newspaper. Now, if the said newspaper starts writing negatively about the said party/government, then there is an apprehension of the Government Ads getting withdrawn. So, Advertisements are a way for the Government to indirectly fund their organic and directly fund inorganic propaganda through Media Outlets.

It is usually the case that Outlets that speak negatively about the Party in Power do not get Advertisements from Government Organizations, and the outlets which speak positively, eat the biggest chunk of the Ad Share.


Linkage of Government Ad Spending with Favourable Reporting

The front page of the Ajit Newspaper yesterday had also more noticeable feature. The first news on the Newspaper was:

“ਭਲਾਈ ਯੋਜਨਾਵਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਕੋਈ ਵਾਂਝਾ ਨਹੀਂ ਰਹੇਗਾ – ਮੋਦੀ”

{“ No one will be deprived of welfare schemes – Modi”}

So, along with the banner Ad, funded by Public Money, singing charms about Modi. There is a free premium space, organically provided by the Newspaper to Mr. Modi, probably due to some un-said expectation/promise regarding future Ad Spends by the Central Government.

I am trying to be objective here, I have gone through the other two newspapers – Punjabi Tribune, and The Hindu. In those newspapers, there is no such news that quotes Modi saying anything regarding welfare schemes. It was not even a slow day. There were a lot of things happening. So, it can’t be said that the Newspaper did not have anything to report, so it lamely quoted Mr. Modi, irrespective of the Central Government Ads.

In my opinion, the linkage of the Government Ad Spending with the bias of Media Outlets is a very serious issue. By this method, the Party in Power buys publicity for themselves by spending the money collected from the citizens in the form of taxes. It is a threat to democracy, in a sense, that no such opportunity is available with the Opposition parties. Further, it is also a bad Fiscal Policy, as the hard-earned money of the taxpayers is spent by the Party in Power for its political motives.

I think that there should be an Independent Board that should handle the Public Relations Department of the Governments, especially the part where they allot Ads to the Media Outlets, and where they decide the content of the Ad to be given.

In Punjabi Tribune, on Page Number 3, the Punjab Government has given an Ad giving Tribute to Kuka Martyrs. I believe that this Ad must have cost around Rs. 5-6 Lakhs to the Punjab Government Exchequer.

On the same page, the West Bengal Government has also given an Ad congratulating the readers on the occasion of the Birthday of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This Ad must also have cost around Rs. 6-7 Lakhs from the West Bengal Government Exchequer.

These are not isolated affairs. Ads of this sort appear daily in the Newspapers. The money spent by the West Bengal Government on the above-said Ad would most probably come from the residents of West Bengal. It is beyond my understanding why they spend the hard-earned money of WB people in a newspaper that has circulation mostly in Punjab only.

It is also questionable whether the above-noted Ad given by the Punjab Government is the most efficient utilization of public funds. Couldn’t the government just have used Free Social Media Apps if they wanted to convey their wishes / tribute to the residents? Why spend public money on such unnecessary activities?


Real Purpose of Government Ad Spending

The Government Ads are supposed to educate the Public regarding the Welfare Schemes. For instance, if they have initiated a certain application portal for Government Jobs, then the Government could utilise the Advertisement Budget to let people know about the said initiative.

Similarly, if they have started a certain ‘Widow Pension’ scheme, the Government should give Advertisements inviting eligible beneficiaries to apply for the said scheme.

Such usage of Public Funds for Advertisement would be completely justified as such Advertisements would actually help the public to get information about Government’s Welfare Schemes.

Further, there must be strict guidelines regarding the use of names / photos of Politicians in Government Advertisements. It is a fact that after every 5 years, the elections take place in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. So, the persons sitting on the chairs might change. Now, why should the public funds be allowed to be used to fund the publicity efforts of such persons?

If the government advertisements are for public awareness regarding the welfare schemes of government, then is there really a need of names/faces of politicians shinning in those Advertisements.

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