Media thrives in Chattisgarh-or does it?

IN Regional Media | 09/09/2002
Media thrives in Chattisgarh-or does it

Media thrives in Chattisgarh-or does it?

By Sevanti Ninan

This month Jansatta, the feisty Hindi newspaper of the Indian Express group makes its debut in Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh. That makes it the third newspaper to begin publishing here after this state was formed, and the second national one. The Hindustan Times was launched here after November 1, 2000, which was the day three new states of the Indian Union were created. Then last year Hari Bhoomi, a paper belonging to a Rohtak publishing group, started up in Bilaspur, and a Raipur edition is on the anvil. For the back of the beyond which is what this region was until two years ago, that adds up to a media boom, no less.

Just two years ago being a journalist in Raipur was equivalent to being in the moffusil press. Now, they tell you with some satisfaction, they are journalists in a state capital. Lalit Surjan, editor of the Deshbandhu which has been publishing from here for many years, says, "All of a sudden we have become newspapers from the capital city. There is more to write about. There is a feeling of involvement in the creation of a new state. We feel we are contributing in a positive manner. We were in the backyard where Madhya Pradesh was concerned. Now when we write the reaction is immediate."

There were three major daily newspapers publishing from this city before it became a state, soon there will be six. Why is the media so enamoured of a presence in Chattisgarh? The reasons have to do with both business and influence. The state¿s economy is expanding. There is now more news being generated here. And the owners of Jansatta-local businessmen who have acquired the franchise to publish the paper from here-like the owners of Hari Bhoomi are looking for a source of clout and influence. Hari Bhoomi is owned by Delhi Politician Sahib Singh Varma¿s relatives. In the new state they own land, coal washeries, and a coal transportation business. When you have major economic interests to nurture or safeguard, having a newspaper helps.

If there is more news in a new state, there is also more advertising. From companies shifting here, from investors being invited in, from new infrastructure projects, and from, hold your breath, the new chief minister. Just a bit of driving around on Raipur¿s newly widened roads is all that is required to establish the fact that this is Ajit Jogi¿s fiefdom. Sort of. His pictures are plastered on prominent structures in the city. They are also plastered on several pages of several newspapers. Everybody in Chattisgarh, it seems, wants to felicitate the CM, and they want to do it in colour with pictures of themselves thrown in.

His birthday on the 29th of April saw supplements filled with pictures of him adorning the newspapers. " I got up early in the morning to read the news and all I got was pictures of myself," he jokes. Apparently this is the first year it has happened. The Opposition tells you darkly that Rs 25 lakhs worth of ads greeting the CM were taken out that day. Mr Jogi prefers to assume that it has happened this year because the impact of his new policies is just beginning to be felt.

Either way, the Congress party¿s penchant for sycophancy is good for the media business. The Hindustan Times had the bright idea of floating a supplement for the CM¿s birthday and soliciting advertising for it. And displays of fealty to the ruling head are not confined to his birthday. BJP MLA B M Agarwal, a former minister in the BJP government of yesteryear, says that wherever Jogi goes in the state Rs two or three lakhs of advertising is taken out to greet him. Nobody disputes that. In Bastar, Pavan Dubey, the editor of the lone evening paper, Highway Channel, says of the flood of Jogi-centric advertising, "If the CM comes ten times the people have to greet him. Earlier the chief minister was far away. He wouldn¿t have noticed if people had greeted him from here."

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