The chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) was recently in Bihar when he sparked yet another controversy when he said the media in Bihar is “gagged” and there is an “unwritten censorship” among the press. He went on to allege that the press do not enjoy full freedom in the state and whoever dares to write against the government has to face the wrath of the government.
Although, for many it was like an alien thing, but many subtly agree with the statement. There is large section who believes that the media in Bihar has been gagged by the government. If sources are to be believed, some intellectuals, academicians and NGOs who strongly believe in the theory went to Katju and pleaded him to take action over the issue. Following the controversy, the PCI has now constituted a three-membered-committee to probe into the matter.
Many allege, the total blackout of the Katju issue in some newspapers was clear evidence on how the government has influenced some media. The serious allegations labelled by the PCI chief to the state government unfortunately did not get ample space in some local newspapers which was a big story for some national media houses the same day.
But, questions must have knocked the minds of people that how a government can control the media in a state. “This is all based on the concept of ‘media management’ and ‘advertisement revenues’. After the government came to power, it started bombarding the newspapers and other media forms with loads of ads where some media made a good business. But he was very particular, those who used to glorify his government got numerous ads while whoever tried to be critical of were devoid of government ad revenues,” says, a Patna based veteran journalist.
“But this is not new; this all started way back in the late 90’s when Nitish was the Railway minister under the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He started favouring newspapers who largely spoke in favour of the government by providing railway tender ads. So the concept of ‘media discrimination’ when it comes to ads was always there,” adds the septuagenarian journalist.
Moreover, the Bihar chief minister has other tactics too, to be in news. “Nitish very well know how to keep good relations with the media. For this, he sometimes back used to throw tea party on every Wednesdays and Fridays to keep a track on them and also to be in a good relation. In result, some media spread a ‘Nitish euphoria’ in front of the people where the newspapers talked only about public announcements, inaugurations and growth rates. Many in this process forgot to do the ground work and got swiped away by what the government used to say. For them there was only development in the state and the state had gotten rid of all social ailments,” says another senior journalist under the condition of anonymity.
If an RTI activist from JNU, New Delhi is to be believed the rosy picture of the government as projected by some media is far from reality. According to him, Nitish is known in media more for his ‘media management’ rather than the development works carried out by him under his regime. He backs his statement by his RTI plea he filed in 2010 with the state IPRD department.
The information furnished by the department reveals staggering figures. It was found that after Nitish came to power he increased the amount given to media in forms of ads to four times compare to RJD’s regime. From 2005-2009, till Feb 28, 2010, the Nitish government spent Rs 64.48 crore on ads whereas the Lalu-Rabri government spent Rs 23.9 crore in six years.
On November 24, 2009, on the eve of the completion of Nitish’s four years as chief minister, he spent Rs 1.15 crore in a single day on ads given to 24 different national and regional media. A detailed report on the RTI revelations was published in “The Hoot” way back on April 12, 2010.
Another interesting fact is related to the radio industry, another form of media. A well placed source in the radio sector says, “The DAVP (Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity) rates are fixed in most of the cities but Patna and many cities are exceptions as FM radio has been launched here for the first time and DAVP has not fixed any rates. Big reason was that there is no competition here. Secondly, the only private FM channel in Patna (people can easily guess who it is) managed to convince the IPRD officials that normal ad rates are 400/ 10 sec and govt will get 300/10 sec. Its was like a special discount of Rs 100 per 10 sec for the Bihar government. If officials wanted they could have got a rate fixed by DAVP. But don't know why they did not go for that. In places like Allahabad, the government pays Rs 60 for every 10 seconds of radio ads while in Patna the government pays Rs 300 for every 10 seconds for the same.”
But what came as a shock to the media fraternity was when a local news channel in Patna (Aryan TV) was blocked since it held a panel discussion on February 27 evening on the press freedom issue where a ruling politician from the ruling party, intellectuals and journalists were present. Well attempts to control media is not a new event. In the past, former chief minister of Bihar Jagannath Mishra was alleged to have made such an attempt when he introduced Press Bill. Indira Gandhi's example is an classic example. Some time back even, Mamata Banerjee also made an attempt when she tried to interfere with the accreditation of journalists.
Even when Anna Hazare was on his fast, the UPA-II government summoned select group of journalists to advice them not to give more coverage to Anna Hazare. The meeting was called by Information and Broadcasting Minister Renuka Chaudhary but many other Union ministers too attended the meeting.
I always remember the words of Dr M V Kamath, a veteran journalist and the former chairman of the Prasar Bharti and a very good friend of JP. The nonagenarian always used to tell us (He was our teacher in our college in Manipal, Karnataka and we were like his grandsons). "There has always been a bond between the media and politicians. But true journalism is all about been unbiased. Politicians will always be there to help you personally, never take any favour from them, be friends with them but never mix personal things with professionalism."
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report are purely those of the author and may not in any circumstances be regarded as the official view of BiharTimes.