Nitish Kumar’s goody box

IN Media Practice | 12/07/2011
Over the last year the state government has given Rs 28.47 crore as advertising to newspapers and television channels. The figure is much higher than in preceding years, but then an election was imminent.
A man asked his wife to give some biscuits or chocolates to his young child, who was asking too many questions––some very intelligent ones––on a variety of topics at a time. The purpose was simple: to keep the boy’s mouth chock-full, if not shut. 
This seems to be the strategy adopted by the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. In the last six years it has given so much to the media-houses in the name of advertisements that they can not open their mouths to speak anything. It is another thing that someone could ask: is the media in Bihar as immature as a child and can be hoodwinked into silence by a mouthful of candy?
Another instance of what is now called media-management by the state government has come to light. BiharTimes has exclusive access to the advertisements given to different newspapers and television channels of Bihar in the last one year. It was procured by an RTI activist, Purander Sawaran, from the office of Information & Public Relation Department of Bihar Govt.
The state government has given as much as Rs 28.47 crore in the form of advertisements to newspapers and television channels. The figure is much higher than the earlier years.
This huge amount has been disbursed notwithstanding the fact that between September and November 2010 the state government was not in position to give any advertisement because of the election. During that period the advts. by political parties and govt. undertakings are not included in this list.
The strange aspect of the whole ad-story is that as much as Rs 10.12 crore (about 35 per cent) has been taken away by one newspaper, Dainik Hindustan while the Urdu daily Quami Tanzeem got advertising worth about Rs one crore–– Rs 98,72,810 to be precise––which is slightly less than the Times of India and Economic Times Rs 1,13,52,332 and much more than Hindustan Times Rs 58,63,454 not to speak of other premier dailies.
Dainik Jagaran with Rs 5.33 crore stood second. What is strange is that Panchjanya, the weekly mouthpiece of the RSS––the cultural organization of the BJP––got advertisement worth just Rs 80,000 in the whole financial year 2010-11.
Hindi and Urdu dailies got preference so far the distribution of the bounty from the state government is concerned. If Quami Tanzeem with just limited circulation can get such huge amount of advertisement the lesser circulated dailies are not too far behind. Farooqui Tanzeem (Rs 62,35,314), Pindaar (Rs 44,11,220), Inqilab-e-Jadeed (Rs 20,57,062), Pyari Urdu (Rs 16,30,667), Sangam Rs 13,80,890 and Mosalas (Rs 4,21,899) are are other Urdu dailies from Patna, which got big advertisements. Halaat-e-Bihar, which is published from Samastipur got advertisement worth Rs 6,67,867.
There were obvious reasons for showing so much generosity towards Urdu dailies. The ruling NDA wanted to win over the Muslims, especially on the eve of the Assembly election. An official formerly associated with the PR Department told Bihar Times that a couple of years back a newspaper like Quami Tanzeem used to get more advertisement than Dainik Hindustan.
Senior free lance Urdu journalist, Naiyer Fatmi, who was formerly associated with the Quami Awaz, feels that the latest trend to give so much government advertisements amount to curbing the freedom of Press. The problem with the Urdu and small Hindi newspapers is that they do not belong to the corporate houses. Therefore, they can easily be controlled by the state government for obvious reasons. This is a dangerous trend. So far the amount of advertisement is concerned it may vary as it depends on the rate fixed by the DAVP, he told Bihar Times.
It needs to be recalled that a huge amount was spent on advertisement on June 9 last year. The reason put forward was the completion of four and a half years of the first Nitish government. The truth is that the four-and-a-half years was completed on April 24, 2010 and not on June 9. The purpose was obvious to give advertisements worth crores to all the newspapers and channels very close to the announcement of the Assembly election. So a substantial part of Rs 28.4 crore had been spent between April and August 2010, that is, before the announcement of the election.
So far other Hindi dailies are concerned Aaj got Rs 1.30 crore, Prabhat Khabar Rs 1.10 crore, Pratyush Nav Bihar Rs 30.29 lakh and Rashtriya Sahara Rs 68.88 lakh. What is strange is that little known Pratah Kamal from Muzaffarpur and Nai Baat from Bhagalpur got Rs 39,63,519 and Rs 22,11,150 respectively.
English newspapers, which have no edition from Patna are also the beneficiaries. The Delhi-based Mail Today got Rs 7,07,635 while The Pioneer and Indian Express got Rs 7,12,994 and Rs 5,95,800 respectively. The boss of The Pioneer is none else but the BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha, Chandan Mitra while the brother of a senior PR Department official in Bihar is in a top job at Mail Today.
Earlier there used to be no state government advertisement for TV channels. However, the Nitish Kumar government some times back changed the policy.
ETV Bihar got Rs 1.04 crore, Mahua Rs 98,77,537, IBN Rs 1,46,689, Sahara TV Rs 30,19,556 Sadhna TV Rs 28,83,347 and little known Saubhagya Mithila Rs 27,795., a news portal got Rs 56,666 while Radio Mirchi Rs 9,41,000.
The Week magazine of the South was not left behind. It got Rs 15,20,000.
In all 39 advertisements were given to electronic media and 12,930 to print.
As per the RTI document of 2008-09 the state government had spent around Rs 25.25 crore on advertisement of both print and electronic media. In 2009-10 till February 28, 2010, around Rs 19.66 crore was spent on advertisements.
What is strange is that in 2005-06 (Nitish Kumar came in power on November 24, 2005) the state spending on advertisements was just around Rs 4.49 crore.
Earlier government advertisements were just confined to tenders, not to highlight development of the state government. Only on August 15 and January 26 the government used to give advertisements highlighting its achievements. Half page or full page photographs of ministers rarely appeared on govt. advts.
In 1990s some central ministries, for example, Railways used to give big advertisements. Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad used to give big advertisements to the newspapers of Bihar.
However, the Bihar government advertisement jumped by around Rs 90 lakh in the very first year of the Nitish government. It was Rs 5.4 crore in 2006-07. In 2007-08, it almost got doubled and reached Rs 9.65 crore, an increase of Rs 4.25 crore. It was around this time that electronic media got empanelled by the Public Relations Department.
It needs to be recalled that on November 24, 2009, that is on the eve of completion of four years of the Nitish government, in a single day advertisements worth Rs 1.15 crore were given to 24 different national as well as regional dailies.
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