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“Media Coverage Packages”: Maharashtra Assembly Election-2009

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Media coverage package

  1. 1. 1 A Dissertation on“Media Coverage Packages”: Maharashtra Assembly Election-2009 By Shashikant Bhagat Nalsar Pro ID No. MLH39_09A Project Paper Submitted in Partial fulfillment of P.G. Diploma in Media Laws for Module – I (Media and Public Policy) December 2009 Nalsar University of Law (Nalsar Pro), Hyderabad
  2. 2. 1 Table of ContentsSr. Heading PageNo. No.01. Introduction: - 3 a) Revenue Model: 4 b) Advertisements: 5 c) PR Articles: 6 d) Advertorial: 702 Treatment: - 8 a) The Social Scenario 9 b) The Issue 10 c) The Medium, Message and 10 Money :03. Role of Journalism: - 15 a) Journalism for Sale: 16 b) The Way Ahead: 18 c) The Consequences: 1904. Conclusions 2105. Bibliography 2306. Endnotes 25
  4. 4. 1 Revenue Model The newspaper industry in India is very different in both the style of itsoperation and the nature of publication when compared to other countries across theworld. One must first comprehend the two markets before passing judgment, theIndian Newspaper market is the only market in the world today with a scope forexpansion and profitability. This market defies the current ongoing global trendwhere newspaper readership is plummeting in the developed countries. The Indiannewspaper (daily) market has seen an increase of 1.26 Crore readers in the period2005-06 (data according to NRS1 – 2006). This growth can be attributed to the significant rise in literacy and awarenesscoupled with the rapid growth witnessed by the country in the last decade. But wemust consider that in order to sustain this kind of growth the newspaper rates mustbe low. The Indian Newspaper market offers the cheapest newspaper service in theworld. The high readership and the large advertising revenue are major reasons forthis trend of low parity pricing strategy. The global scenario however is quite different with majority of the newspaperslike The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and several other eminentnewspapers running in huge financial debts, due to decline in advertising revenueand a steady fall in circulation. Today several of these publications have been forcedto shut their print editions and are merely surviving on their internet versions. One must understand that the actual price of publishing a newspaper copy ismuch larger than the price the reader purchases it for, this reduction in price isbrought about by the publisher by selling space in the newspaper foradvertisements. The revenue so generated is then used to make up for theremainder of the expenses incurred. This now clearly indicates that advertising revenue is the major cause for thevery existence of the newspapers today, thereby clearly indicating that it would benearly impossible for newspapers to give unbiased news coverage as is expected bytheir readers. Further the agenda of newspapers today too has varied to a greatextent from focusing on developmental and educative news, the onus has nowshifted to more commercial news i.e. news which is of a financial benefit to thenewspaper.1 NRS- National Readership Survey conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. NRS 2006 isthe latest conducted survey.
  5. 5. 1 Advertisements An advertisement is a paid form of non personal presentation of ideas, goodsor services through an identified sponsor. It could be used as a medium to generateawareness or to promote or to sell a product .Today, the entire world of mediadepends on advertisements as a source of revenue to run their operations. In the globalised world of high media coverage, it is essential that themarketer conveys his message to his prospective customers. The impact of mediaorganizations is phenomenal and is therefore used by the marketer as a tool forpersuasion to attain high profits. Newspapers are preferred as message carriersbecause of the high readership they have. However one must understand that a medium for advertising is only chosenwhen the advertiser can obtain maximum viewers at minimum cost while alsoconsidering other parameters such as the target audience of the newspaper, thecredibility of the publication and the public’s perception of the newspaper. Thenewspaper however ensures never to lose its clients as they are the financialbloodline of the publication. It is a two way relationship where the newspaper needs the advertiser for therevenue while the advertiser also needs the medium for its impact and the favorablemomentum it can generate, thereby clearly indicating the symbiotic relationshipbetween the two as each aids the other in growth and maturity.
  6. 6. 1 Public Relation Articles Public Relations can be defined as deliberate, planned and sustained effortsto establish and maintain relations between an organization and its public in otherwords it’s a series of practices performed by an organization in order to foster andmaintain amicable relations with its clientele. This is an upcoming trend in media today where organizations try to givenews stories to the media which are focused on the company’s growth,achievements and other such positive developments. The companies haveunderstood today that in order to maintain a good public image they must constantlybe in public’s eye. These articles when published create a positive aura pertaining to thecompany in the mind of the reader as unlike advertisements; here the reader can’tfigure out the existence of a sponsor. These articles are also free of all the clutterwhich accompanies an advertisement thus conveying the message in a subtler butsurer way. This trend implies that these organizations try their best to make it into thenews and often use illegal practices like bribing reporters, offering them gifts andother benefits to ensure publication of their articles. This trend has also led to themisconception that the content published in these articles is accepted by the newsorganizations and the positive opinion in the article is also endorsed by thepublication.
  7. 7. 1 Advertorials Advertorials are advertisements which look like editorials (Advert-orial) in abroader sense they are advertisements placed by identified sponsors but placed in away to seem like news. These are found to be more effective because the public isunable to distinguish between this and a news story. To make things tougher for the public these stories have exactly the samestructure as a normal news story and generally do have a headline, a leadparagraph, and does follow the famous ‘inverted pyramid2’ structure that is generallyused to write a news story. This trend is harmful to the reader because these stories deceive the readersas they are mere advertisements who only aim at persuasion of the potentialcustomer. Though an even more dangerous trend has now emerged, this trend nowsees the publishers not making any sort of demarcations between such advertorialsand news stories. Newspapers as being ‘opinion generators’ i.e. create an opinion in the mindsof the people by carrying ideas and philosophy in their editorial content, highlyinfluence the way the readers think and their approach to life and other social anddomestic stimuli. The common man hardly suspects the presence of such trends inthe media industry and is taken for a ride by these media organizations. In a nutshell the advertorial is a very successful but manipulative tool which isused by the advertiser; this move seriously if noticed by the public at large candamage the credibility of the newspaper and also tarnish its image in the public’seye.2 Inverted Pyramid: This is a News structure in which the most recent and the most importantportion of the story comes first and the remainder of the story then follows
  8. 8. 1 TREATMENTS The Social Scenario Now, that we have acclimatized ourselves with the business model and thesources of revenue for a newspaper, we now focus ourselves on the situation andcircumstances in which ‘paid news’ was developed. Paid news though as the name
  9. 9. 1suggests is news published or broadcast by an organization when an interestedparty pays the media firm to carry that news article. The major steps were taken by this form of News during the recent GlobalRecession3. It is said ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and so it has been in thiscase, the Recession lead to the drying out of funds and a huge decrease in liquidity4in the global markets. Investors cashed on their stocks and rapid selling resulted inplummeting of the stock market. This negative trend hit several companies’operations as no funds were available which in turn led to the loss of employment ofseveral people. This loss of employment led to a decrease in demand of goods andservices as the style of living too was reduced by the unemployed. This decrease indemand led to an increase in supply thus causing the prices to crash causing ashortage in revenue and an overall collapse of the industry. The media industry suffered because its major source of revenue wasadvertisements and their clientele had no money to advertise this resulted in a hugedecrease in profits and revenue for the newspapers. Newspapers were forced to cutdown supplements, bring down the number of pages as the cash flow declined andsoon other sources of revenue were looked for. Amid such circumstances the idea of ‘Paid News’ was born as mediaorganizations realized that people craving for media attention would happily pay forobtaining that attention, thus articles on people, features , Page-3 stories and othersuch articles were published in an exchange for cash strategy. This trend soon caught up and important local news was soon being missedout upon as paid stories made their way into the normal news stories. This can besummarized as the cornerstone from which the trend of ‘Pay packages for news hassprouted’. However the Question remains: With the revival of the economy is thispractice here to stay or will it be done away with?3 Recession: A time period of financial turmoil and trouble in which the economy growsnegatively due to shortage of liquidity or bad accounting processes4 Liquidity: Being in cash or easily convertible to cash; debt paying ability
  10. 10. 1 The Issue The issue now arises is the fact of these ‘media coverage packages’ whichhave come to light today and are now being discussed all around us. The issuethough which has been referred to the Press Council of India was unveiled in aneditorial by P. Sainath of The Hindu5 (published by M/s Kasturi & Sons) The articlecarried in the Hindu on the 31st October 2009 is as follows: The medium, message and the money6P. Sainath The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explodeacross Maharashtra. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for almost anycoverage at all. C. Ram Pandit can now resume his weekly column. Dr. Pandit (namechanged) had long been writing for a well-known Indian language newspaper inMaharashtra. On the last day for the withdrawal of nominations to the recent StateAssembly elections, he found himself sidelined. An editor at the paper apologized tohim saying: “Panditji, your columns will resume after October 13. Till then, everypage in this paper is sold.” The editor, himself an honest man, was simply speakingthe truth. In the financial orgy that marked the Maharashtra elections, the media werenever far behind the moneybags. Not all sections of the media were in this mode,but quite a few. Not just small local outlets, but powerful newspapers and televisionchannels, too. Many candidates complained of “extortion” but were not willing tomake an issue of it for fear of drawing media fire. Some senior journalists andeditors found themselves profoundly embarrassed by their managements. “Themedia have been the biggest winners in these polls,” says one ruefully. “In thisperiod alone,” says another, “they’ve more than bounced back from the blows of the‘slowdown’ and done so in style.” Their poll-period take is estimated to be inhundreds of millions of rupees. Quite a bit of this did not come as direct advertisingbut in packaging a candidate’s propaganda as “news.”5 The Hindu: Is a popular news daily in South India, established in 1875 and is estimated to havea circulation of 1.5 million copies daily.6 The editorial column has been exactly picked up as it had appeared on publication in TheHindu on Oct.31 2009.
  11. 11. 1 The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explodeacross the State. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for almost anycoverage at all. Issues didn’t come into it. No money, no news. This effectively shutout smaller parties and independent voices with low assets and resources. It alsomisled viewers and readers by denying them any mention of the real issues some ofthese smaller forces raised. The Hindu reported on this (April 7, 2009) during theLok Sabha elections, where sections of the media were offering low-end “coveragepackages" for Rs.15 lakh to Rs.20 lakh. “High-end” ones cost a lot more. The Statepolls saw this go much further. None of this, as some editors point out, is new. However, the scale is newand stunning. The brazenness of it (both ways) quite alarming. And the game hasmoved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structuredextraction of huge sums of money by media outfits. One rebel candidate in westernMaharashtra calculates that an editor from that region spent Rs.1 crore “on just localmedia alone.” And, points out the editor, “he won, defeating the official candidate ofhis party.” The deals were many and varied. A candidate had to pay different rates for‘profiles,’ interviews, a list of ‘achievements,’ or even a trashing of his rival in somecases. (With the channels, it was “live” coverage, a ‘special focus,’ or even a teamtracking you for hours in a day.) Let alone bad-mouthing your rival, this “pay-per”culture also ensures that the paper or channel will not tell its audiences that youhave a criminal record. Over 50 per cent of the MLAs just elected in Maharashtrahave criminal charges pending against them. Some of them featured in adulatory“news items” which made no mention of this while tracing their track record. At the top end of the spectrum, “special supplements” cost a bomb. One putout by one of the State’s most important politicians — celebrating his “era” — costan estimated Rs.1.5 crore. That is, just this single media insertion cost 15 timeswhat he is totally allowed to spend as a candidate. He has won more than theelection, by the way. One common low-end package: Your profile and “four news items of yourchoice” to be carried for between Rs.4 lakh or more depending on which page youseek. There is something chilling about those words “news items of your choice.”Here is news on order. Paid for. (Throw in a little extra and a writer from the paperwill help you draft your material.) It also lent a curious appearance to somenewspaper pages. For instance, you could find several “news items” of exactly thesame size in the same newspaper on the same day, saying very different things.Because they were really paid-for propaganda or disguised advertisements. Atypical size was four columns by ten centimeters. When a pro-saffron alliance paper
  12. 12. 1carries “news items” of this size extolling the Congress-NCP, you know strangethings are happening. (And, oh yes, if you bought “four news items of your choice”many times, a fifth one might be thrown in gratis.) There were a few significant exceptions to the rule. A couple of editors triedhard to bring balance to their coverage and even ran a “news audit” to ensure that.And journalists who, as one of them put it, “simply stopped meeting top contacts inembarrassment.” Because, often, journalists with access to politicians wereexpected to make the approach. That information came from a reporter whose papersent out an email detailing “targets” for each branch and edition during the elections.The bright exceptions were drowned in the flood of lucre. And the huge sums pulledin by that paper have not stopped it from sacking droves of staffers. Even fromeditions that met their ‘targets.’ There are the standard arguments in defense of the whole process.Advertising packages are the bread and butter of the industry. What’s wrong withthat? “We have packages for the festive season. Diwali packages, or for the Ganeshpuja days.” Only, the falsehoods often disguised as “news” affect an exercise centralto India’s electoral democracy. And are outrageously unfair to candidates with lessor no money. They also amount to exerting undue influence on the electorate. There is another poorly assessed — media-related — dimension to this. Manycelebrities may have come out in May to exhort people to vote. This time, several ofthem appear to have been hired by campaign managers to drum up crowds for theircandidate. Rates unknown. All of this goes hand in hand with the stunning rise of money power amongcandidates. More so among those who made it the last time and have amassedhuge amounts of wealth since 2004. With the media and money power wrapped liketwo peas in a pod, this completely shuts out smaller, or less expensive, voices. Itjust prices the aam aadmi out of the polls. Never mind they are contested in hisname. Your chances of winning an election to the Maharashtra Assembly, if you areworth over Rs.100 million, are 48 times greater than if you were worth just Rs.1million or less. Far greater still, if that other person is worth only half-a-million rupeesor less. Just six out of 288 MLAs in Maharashtra who won their seats declaredassets of less than half-a-million rupees. Nor should challenges from garden varietymulti-millionaires (those worth between Rs.1 million-10 million) worry you much.Your chances of winning are six times greater than theirs, says the National ElectionWatch (NEW).
  13. 13. 1 The number of ‘crorepati’ MLAs (those in the Rs.10 million-plus category) inthe State Assembly has gone up by over 70 per cent in the just concluded elections.There were 108 elected in 2004. This time, there are 184. Nearly two-thirds of theMLAs just elected in Maharashtra and close to three-fourths of those in Haryana, arecrorepatis. These and other startling facts fill the reports put out by NEW, a coalitionof over 1,200 civil society groups across the country that also brought out excellentreports on these issues during the Lok Sabha polls in April-May. Its effort to informthe voting public is spearheaded by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms(ADR). Each MLA in Maharashtra, on average, is worth over Rs.40 million. That is, ifwe treat their own poll affidavit declarations as genuine. That average is boosted byCongress and BJP MLAs who seem richer than the others, being well above thatmark. The NCP and the Shiv Sena MLAs are not too far behind, though, the averageworth of each of their legislators being in the Rs.30 million-plus bracket. Each time a giant poll exercise is gone through in this most complex ofelectoral democracies, we congratulate the Election Commission on a fine job.Rightly so, in most cases. For, many times, its interventions and activism havecurbed rigging, booth capturing and ballot stuffing. On the money power front,though — and the media’s packaging of big money interests as “news” — it is hardto find a single significant instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These too, afterall, are serious threats. More structured, much more insidious than crude ballotstuffing. Far more threatening to the basics of not just elections, but democracyitself. The article clearly written by one from the journalists’ community has createda public outrage and has caused one to view the entire election process with anangle and perspective that never before existed clearly indicating that ‘PaidJournalism’ was at its peak and was worth at least a few thousand crores in revenueto the various media organizations that practiced it. This article led to the publication of several such articles and acted as atrigger which uncovered the whole ruckus that was part and parcel of the electionprocess in 2009 across the country. This article led to a public outcry and a feelingof being deceived and manipulated by the public at large, which no longer feels thatthe Media Organizations are interested to act as the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’ 7 theywere expected to be clearly indicating that the media organizations have ceased to7 A metaphor used by Dr. Keval J Kumar in his bokk Mass communication in India by JaicoBooks.
  14. 14. 1remain impartial and unbiased in the whole process and will most likely promote andpublicize only their vested interests.
  15. 15. 1 ROLE OF JOURNALISMThe public sentiment was then further echoed by The Hindu again on the 7th ofNovember, 2009 in another article which ran as follows: Journalism for sale8 India’s elections, which in mid-2009 brought 415 million voters to the 1.18million ballot units in 834,944 polling stations and were mostly peaceful, may be oneof the wonders of the world. But it is widely understood that in 2009 the free, fair,and democratic attributes of these elections have been compromised as never8 The editorial column has been exactly picked up as it had appeared on publication in TheHindu on Oct.31 2009.
  16. 16. 1before by the large-scale, illegal, and scandalous use of money power — which, to aconsiderable extent, involved recycled dirty money garnered through corruption inexecutive and legislative office. The role of the Election Commission of India incurbing booth capturing, intimidation of voters, and some other kinds of electoralfraud has won public appreciation. But as P. Sainath points out in his article, “Themedium, message and the money,” published in The Hindu on October 26, 2009, “itis hard to find a single instance of rigorous or deterrent action” by the ECI in the faceof such a serious danger to the democratic process. That is a large question thatneeds to be addressed in depth and in all its complexity by the various players in thepolitical system. The new shame is the extensive and brazen participation of not insignificantsections of the news media, notably large-circulation Indian language newspapers intwo of India’s largest States, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, in this genre ofcorruption — which a politician speaking at a Hyderabad media seminar memorablycharacterized as a “Cash Transfer Scheme” from politicians to journalists. Sainath’sarticle exposes the phenomenon of “coverage packages” exploding across India’smost industrialized State during the recent Assembly election. Candidates paidnewspapers different rates for well-differentiated and streamlined packages of newscoverage. Those who could not or would not pay for the packages tended to beblacked out. The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists has, on the basis of asample survey conducted in West Godavari district, estimated that newspapersacross the State netted Rs. 350 crore to Rs. 400 crore through editorial coveragesold to candidates during the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Somecandidates even recorded the expenditure incurred in purchasing editorial coveragein their official accounts submitted to the ECI. With some senior journalists drawingits attention to this new-fangled cash transfer scheme in Andhra Pradesh, the PressCouncil of India has constituted a two-member committee to inquire into the matter.What to do about such a shocking breach of readers’ trust (which is unlikely to beconfined to Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) by the so-called Fourth Estate willform the subject of a follow-up editorial. The verdict of the issue sadly won’t be out till the Press Council of Indiadebates the pros and cons of the situation, the violations and transgressions madeby the media houses during this controversial period and finally comes out with averdict it feels will be fair in its regard. But the articles clearly expose that the phrase ‘voice of the poor and themeek’ can no longer be associated with the kind of journalism practiced today. Thecommercial needs of the media have resulted in it being handicapped and financially
  17. 17. 1driven in order to meet its commitments. This has caused the viewers and thereaders to consider whether the news reported by these organizations is true? Orreported in the right earnest frame of mind with the right balance and free of anyform of bias. The Way Ahead This issue has clearly conveyed a singular message that the credibility ofnews reported by news organizations has taken a huge hit and the common man orthe average viewer/ reader has been deceived by those very people whom he paysto keep him abreast with the latest developments he feels are important. This issuehas also made the common man realize the unbiased scene of media coveragetoday as well as the stands taken by media houses on issues owing to advertisersand their other commercial commitments, ensuring that an agenda free newsservice is impossible in today’s scenario. The question now arises that irrespective of everything, the only reason themedia house receives advertisements is because of the number of people whosubscribe to its news and entertainment services and who would like to view andread the content put forth. So, it is surely not a wise decision on part of the media tosacrifice these dedicated people for the sake of a few extra bucks.
  18. 18. 1 If advertisements and financial benefits are all what an organization seeksthen we must realize that less news content or news content of lower quality wouldreduce its target readers thus clearly hurting the prospects of higher readership andalso as a consequence higher revenue as the two are inter related. This implies that media organizations need to strike a balance between thetwo and know that if one is to be sacrificed for the other than it would have anadverse effect on the entire newspaper and its publication. This balance wouldensure the successful running of the organization. The Consequences This issue’s consequences can be seriously be debated and reams of paperwill be inked on these issues. The issue has exceeded moral ethics as well as hurtthe entire process of democracy as a whole seriously leading to contemplation of thefailure of the Media as a unit as well as clearly highlighting the fact that themanipulative power of the media is unchallenged and democracy ill-equipped to fightit. The impact of these steps can be analysed in two steps: 1. Elections: The elections witnessed this fiasco and the power and impact of the media is now evident to the public. The result of this huge media balloon which created a series of opinions in the minds of the public would have been
  19. 19. 1 instrumental in the final outcome. This implies that the election is equal to be rigged as not all candidates had an equal opportunity to canvass. The issue also clearly indicates that the richer candidates were benefitted as they could afford to pay for higher media coverage and were eventually the final winners, thus clearly violating the extreme limit of expenditure set by The Election Commission at Rs. 10 Lakh per candidate and what’s more the media which were to help the EC uphold this set of directives helped the candidates violate these rules. The independent candidates stood no chance as they couldn’t match the funds that could be generated by the political parties thereby faring horribly at the elections. Democracy seems the final loser as one must remember that in a democracy the voice of the majority is heard which doesn’t imply that the minority will be sacrificed for the sake of the majority. 2. Moral Issues: This issue has also seemed to cross ethical and moral boundaries as the media have set the example of being corrupt and immoral to the public at large. The same money could have been made had the candidates advertised, sure the impact for the candidate would have lessened but the credibility of the journalism community would have remained untarnished. Ina country like India where corruption and crime are the order of the day it is the media that is expected to scrutinize the system and pass a verdict on such social evils but the media itself committing the crime has clearly indicated the spread of corruption to the upper echelons of the intelligentsia thus crippling the ability of the entire country to think in a free and unbiased manner. The final picture only indicates that the media must have a regulatory body which monitors its activities and ensures that journalism goes the right way and remains true to the principle it was founded upon. Media is to play the role of a mirror to the rulers to show them their flaws and to the ruled a guide. The rulers must understand the ruled through the media and only then will the country be at peace. The Media too like the Democracy in the words of Abraham Lincoln is “of the people, for the people and by the people9.”9 Words from Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address Nov 19, 1863
  20. 20. 1CONCLUSIONS
  21. 21. 1 Conclusion This entire procedure like the entire country awaits the judgment of the PressCouncil of India on the issue. But this entire research and analysis clearly revealsthat the media has failed to remain the ombudsman of the democracy. This bringsinto consideration the famous line “Who watches the watchmen?”
  22. 22. 1 The consequence of the trial could be the establishment of a mediaorganization that will govern and guide the media organizations. This may seem asmove against article 19 (A) which guarantees freedom of speech but one mustremember that this always not the case. In this case we must sacrifice the freedomof speech to prevent manipulation of the public and to ensure that the rightinformation and news is disseminated. BIBLOGRAPHY
  23. 23. 1Books Refered:Basu, D.D. 1986 Law of the Press. Nagpur: Wadwa Publications.M.P. Jain Indian Constitutional Law 2003 Nagpur: Wadwa Publications.Joseph, M.K. 1997 Freedom of the Press. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.Ambrish Saxena 2004 Right to Information and Freedom of Press. KanishkaPublications, New Delhi.Sharma, Jitendra Kumar. 2002 Ethics of Journalism in Transition. New Delhi:Authourpress.Iyer Vendkat. 2000 Mass Media Laws and Regulations in India. Singapore: AMIC.Bandhyopadhyay, P.K. and Arora, Kuldip Singh. 1998 A Practitioners Guide toJournalistic Ethics. New Delhi: D.K.P. B. Sawant & P.K. Bandyopadhyay Advertising Law And EthicsAnil K. Dixit Press 2006 Laws and Media Ethics. Reference Press, New Delhi
  24. 24. 1Arun Bhatia Media and Communication Ethics Anmol Publications Pvt Ltd. New DelhiB. Manna. 1998 Mass Media and Laws in - Watching Media in the Subcontinent - – - Journalism ethics guidelines - ENDNOTESGiven every endnotes on the topics.
  25. 25. 1